By Elise Harris
ROME – At a time when the immigration issue is becoming more contentious across the globe – especially in Europe – Pope Francis offered a Mass on Monday commemorating his visit to Lampedusa six years ago, praying for all migrants who have either died or been abused along their route.
“On this sixth anniversary of the visit to Lampedusa, my thoughts go out to those ‘least ones’ who daily cry out to the Lord, asking to be freed from the evils that afflict them,” the pope said during his July 8 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“These least ones are abandoned and cheated into dying in the desert; these least ones are tortured, abused and violated in detention camps; these least ones face the waves of an unforgiving sea; these least ones are left in reception camps too long for them to be called temporary,” he said, stressing that they are only a small number “of the least ones who Jesus asks us to love and raise up.”
The Italian island of Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy, is a key destination for migrants, mostly from Libya, wishing to enter Europe. Francis visited the island in 2013 to commemorate the thousands of people who had lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean, often in flimsy, overcrowded boats.
Since then, immigration has emerged as one of the most explosive issues in European politics, with many EU countries now led by populist leaders pushing a hardline anti-immigrant stance.
This is especially the case in the pope’s own backyard, where Lampedusa itself has in many ways become the front line of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s attempts to crack down on illegal immigration into the country.
In his homily on Monday, the pope pointed to the day’s first reading from Genesis, in which Jacob, while traveling from Beersheba to Haran, has a dream in which he sees a ladder with angels ascending and descending, representing Christ’s incarnation and the connection between human and divine.
Calling the ladder in Jacob’s dream the “antithesis of the Tower of Babel,” which was built by men who with their own strength wanted to reach heaven and become gods, Francis said that Jacob’s ladder is an image of “God who comes down; it is the Lord who reveals himself; it is God who saves.”
He also spoke about the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus, while rushing to attend to the sick daughter of one of the city’s authorities, is touched by a woman with a hemorrhage who sought healing.
“Jesus makes no distinctions: Liberation is generously given to each of them. Their longing places both the woman and the girl among the ‘least’ who are to be loved and raised up,” the pope said, noting how Jesus constantly revealed to his disciples “the need for a preferential option for the least, those who must be given the front row in the exercise of charity.”
Noting how migrants today frequently fall into the category of “the least,” the pope lamented that the “existential peripheries” of many large cities are filled with people who have been “thrown away, marginalized, oppressed, discriminated against, abused, exploited, abandoned, poor and suffering.”
Pointing to the Beatitudes, Francis said they are a call for each Christian to comfort the poor and afflicted, offering them mercy and quenching their hunger and thirst while showing them the way to heaven.
“They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues,” he said, stressing that “this is not just about migrants,” but it is a human issue and a call to attend to “all those rejected by today’s globalized society.”
Returning to the image of Jacob’s ladder, the pope said the connection between heaven and earth is both guaranteed and accessible to all, but to climb it “requires commitment, effort and grace.”
“The weakest and most vulnerable must be helped,” he said, urging faithful to be like the angels in Jacob’s dream, guiding the poor, sick and excluded under their wings.
“This is a tremendous responsibility, from which no one is exempt if we wish to fulfill the mission of salvation and liberation in which the Lord himself has called us to cooperate,” he said, and thanked all those working to assist and integrate foreigners.