(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has again expressed his closeness and concern for migrants and refugees by blessing a sculpture to be placed in the port of the Sicilian Island of Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe for hundreds of thousands fleeing poverty and violence.
Before stepping into the Paul VI Hall to lead the weekly General Audience on Wednesday, the Pope met Mauro Vaccai, the artist who has created the sculpture and blessed the work of art that celebrates the culture of welcome put into practice by the Lampedusa authorities and population.
Due to its geographical position, the tiny island is one of the main points of entry for African migrants. Tens of thousands of desperate men, women and children have landed on its shores in the past years. Tragically, hundreds have perished during the dangerous crossing.
Vaccai, who comes from the Tuscan town of Pistoia, explained that the large bas-relief in white marble from Carrara, weighs 800 kilograms. It will be positioned in Lampedusa Port with the help of the Italian Navy.
Many of Vaccai’s works are to be found in Churches and religious settings; he has frequently chosen Christian subjects as his inspiration. He has also donated many of his creations to charity.
He said that the sculpture for Lampedusa celebrates the example the Island is giving the rest of the world with its welcome for migrants.
After having been elected Pope on 13 March 2013, the very first apostolic visit Francis chose to undertake was to Lampedusa, where he celebrated Mass, prayed for those who have lost their lives during their journey of hope, and told the world to reject the “globalization of indifference”.
It was 8 July 2013, and during his brief stay on the island the Pope called for a “reawakening of consciences” to counter the “indifference” shown to migrants and denounced traffickers who exploit their desperation.