Immigration is a hot topic in Europe, just as it is here in the US. I recently read about a case there that touched me. The small Italian island of Lampedusa is just 70 miles from Tunisia in North Africa. This tiny island has attracted impoverished Africans seeking access into Europe where they hope to find a better life.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that most of the boats these poor people use for the journey are flimsy – patched together from anything they can find – but what may shock you is that more than 20,000 men, women and children have perished in the attempt.
Earlier this summer, Pope Francis made a visit to Lampedusa after hearing that another group of immigrants had drowned at sea. He called for repentance. Then, the Holy Father compared the listening audience to the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan who saw a robbed and beaten man in need but walked by without helping. “We have lost a sense of fraternal responsibility,” he said in his homily.
With these words, the Pope revealed that we are all implicated in tragedies like this one. We have let the common misfortunes occurring every day in the world harden our hearts. In our desperation to remain “comfortable” and detached, we have closed our eyes to many who suffer. “The culture of well-being, which leads us to think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of others,” Pope Francis said. “The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep.”
This isn’t to say we should all rush to Tunisia or Lampedusa to help immigrants (unless, of course, God is calling you to that mission), but we must recognize that Pope Francis is correct in his assessment. There are times when we must be willing to reject the “culture of wellbeing” and take responsibility for our brothers and sisters – particularly when calamity befalls them.
This will not be an easy task. In the face of our culture’s obsession with pleasure and possessions, it will be difficult for us to soften our hearts and chose action over inaction. But with God’s help, we can develop a new sensitivity to other’s needs. As Pope Francis said at Lampedusa, “Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this.”