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Shipwreck of Libyan refugees revives Italian debate on migrants

April 07, 2011

A shipwreck that killed dozens of refugees from northern Africa has prompted new appeals from Church leaders for a charitable attitude toward migrants.

A flimsy craft carrying hundreds of refugees—mostly from war-torn Libya—went down off the coast of Malta. As rescue efforts from both Italy and Malta searched for survivors, Bishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, Italy, charged that “the sea is not to blame for this disaster, but indifference.” The Catholic Church has persistently urged Europeans to show mercy toward migrants who are fleeing from untenable conditions. Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, the president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants, repeated that theme: “Europe needs to think seriously about what it means to remain in the region from which refugees are fleeing.” He chided Italy for its failure to accept migrants, noting that other European countries have more open policies.

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that Pope Benedict was “deeply troubled” by the shipwreck, and was praying for both victims and survivors. He said:

“The Holy Father and the whole Church, remember in their prayers all victims of all nationalities and status, women and children, who lose their lives in the terrible journey to escape poverty, injustice or violence from which they are afflicted, in search of protection, welcome and more humane living conditions. Let us remember that among the victims of these tragedies in the Mediterranean there are Eritrean Catholics who were migrants in Libya and who also took part in the life of the Catholic community.


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