“Thank you for everything you do. I’d like to tell you that I’m always available to lend a hand. Count on me”.
That’s part of a letter Pope Francis wrote to Luca Casarini – head of the mission of Mediterranea: Saving Humans, a rescue platform for migrants in the Mediterranean – with the intention of encouraging volunteers from the humanitarian missions on the sea.
The pontiff – whose message was published in Italian Catholic daily Avvenire – was responding to a letter he received from Casarini outlining the latest news from migrant hotspot Libya.
The testimony of volunteers from humanitarian missions
In the letter Casarini sent the Pope on behalf of all the members of his organisation, the head of Mediterranea expressed his bitterness at the obstacles that stand in the way of humanitarian ships, but especially at the worsening conditions for thousands of people in the refugee camps in Libya and Greece, whom the threat of the coronavirus has begun to overshadow.
“In these terrible days, I think about what we do at sea and about what we feel when we have the privilege of being able to save our migrant brothers and sisters from death while the world looks the other way”, Casarini wrote to Pope Francis.
The head of Mediterranea reflected too on the pandemic that “forces everyone today to redouble their fight for life [and] to ask others for help to save themselves.”
The Pope’s gratitude and encouragement
In the face of the worries and testimonies of the volunteers of the humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean, Pope Francis responded with words of affection and gratitude.
“Luca, dear brother, thank you very much for your letter [and] for the human piety that you have displayed in the face of so much pain”, the pontiff wrote.
“Thank you for your testimony, which does me a lot of good”.
Reflecting on the experience of saving refugees from drowning, Casarini had confided to the pontiff that “I’ve always had the feeling that we’re saving ourselves, that really, those men, women and defenseless children are saving us”.
“Today everything is clear, transparent like the water of that Mediterranean sea that we want to imagine as the ‘Great Lake of Tiberias'”.
The cross and the life jacket of migrants
Pope Francis’ concern for the migrants who attempt to cross the Mediterranean, as well as for the members of the ONGs who go in their aid to save them from drowning, was on display last December when he unveiled in the Vatican an eloquent testimony to Europe’s refugee tragedy.
At the entrance to the Apostolic Palace from the Belvedere Courtyard, the Pope placed a cross next to a life jacket as a symbol of the many anonymous dead who drown in the Mediterranean.
The cross was made and donated to the pontiff by Mediterranea itself.
The lifejacket was recovered at sea on July 3, 2019 from the ship Alex, then seized due to the security decrees still in force, before being finally returned at the end of the authorities’ investigation to Captain Tommy Stella and the crew of Mediterranea.
“I decided to display this lifejacket here, crucified on this cross, to remind us that we must keep our eyes open…, keep our hearts open…, to remind everyone of the indispensable commitment to save every human life, a moral duty that unites believers and non-believers”, Pope Francis said upon unveiling the monument.
Pope calls Italian TV show, thanks COVID-19 doctors, nurses, sisters, priests: “They have given their lives out of love”
In the meantime, the pontiff has also surprised the audience of Italian TV show, A Sua Immagine (“In His Image”), with an appearance designed to communicate his nearness to all those offering their lives to help others.
Host Lorena Bianchetti recognised the caller’s voice immediately. “Pope Francis!”, she exclaimed. “Welcome to the program”.
“You recognised my voice!”, the Pope replied.
Lorena then thanked the Pope for calling, “but above all, for what you are doing for all of us, for how you are participating in such a paternal way in our sufferings”.
Then, as any other host, she had a question for the Pope. “Your Holiness”, she asked, “how are you living these days?”
The “crucified” of today
“I am thinking of the crucified Lord and of the many stories of history’s crucifixions, those of today, of this pandemic”, the Pope replied.
Then he listed those whom he has been mentioning frequently: doctors, nurses, sisters, priests. They have “died on the front lines, like soldiers, who have given their lives out of love”.
He compared them to Mary, steadfast at the foot of the cross. They found that cross, the Pope said, “in their communities, in hospitals, treating the sick”. They are the “crucified of today, dying out of love”. This is what Pope Francis is thinking about in these days.
“Hope doesn’t take away pain, but it doesn’t disappoint”
The Pope then underlined that he is near to those who are suffering, especially because of the pandemic.
However, he is “looking up, looking toward hope, because hope does not disappoint. It does not take away pain, but it does not disappoint”.
Love the last word
Lorena then asked a further question: “So, Holy Father, once again, everything notwithstanding, this will be an Easter of the Resurrection, an Easter of peace?”
“Easter always ends in the Resurrection and in peace”, he replied.
This does not mean a “happy ending”, he continued, “but a loving commitment that makes you tread a difficult path. But He trod it first. This comforts us and gives us strength”.
(With reporting by Vatican News)