The Year of Mercy reminds us to welcome the stranger and Pope Francis teaches us that “we ourselves need to see, and then enable others to see, that migrants and refugees are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.”
One man who proved a small act can make a massive difference is Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter from the small Italian Island of Lampedusa. On a cold night, three years ago a boat sailed from Africa trying to reach Europe. The boat was over-filled with over 500 refugees who were fleeing Eritrea and Somalia. Some aboard were Eritrean Christians who were trying to escape religious persecution. Somewhere en route, the boat caught fire, capsized and sank; 311 people perished. Inhabitants of Lampedusa helped save the lives of 155 others.
So heartbroken was Mr Tuccio when he met some of the survivors at his local church, he wanted to help but had nothing to give. The only thing he could think to give them was a symbol of hope. He collected the broken pieces of wood that had washed ashore from the remainder of their boat and made the Lampedusa Cross. He offered this simple, handmade cross to the survivors of the disaster as a sign of hope, solidarity and love.
He gave a cross to Pope Francis to carry at a memorial service and a cross was recently carried through the great Door of Mercy at St Peter’s Basilica. CAFOD, together with Caritas Social Action and the Jesuit Refugee Service, has offered all Cathedrals in England and Wales a Lampedusa Cross so they can display it.
Inspired by the Year of Mercy, people across England and Wales have begun to act in solidarity with this refugee crisis.
Small acts such as writing messages of hope to be shared with refugees, to organising pilgrimages to reflect on our response to the refugee crisis, demonstrate how through our faith we can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.
CAFOD, alongside partner organisations, is working internationally to provide practical help to the refugees. In March 2016 we pledged £100,000 to Caritas Hellas to support scaling up their emergency aid response, which will also include installing basic chemical toilets and shower facilities at Idomeni refugee camp closest to the border of Greece and FYR Macedonia.
We are also calling on the UK government to accept a proportionate amount of refugees from both inside the EU and beyond. We are calling on the government to establish safe and legal routes so that those fleeing persecution, war and poverty can find a harbour where they are welcomed to safety.
We have created resources to help you organise your own pilgrimage in your parish, school or group, or use as part of any other Year of Mercy pilgrimage. During the pilgrimage, there is an opportunity to write messages for hope for refugees.
To find out more, order or download the pilgrimage reflection and cards for your messages of hope, visit cafod.org.uk/yearofmercy.
Photograph courtesy of Caritas Internationalis