VATICAN CITY (CNA) -- Pope Francis will celebrate Mass Wednesday marking the seventh anniversary of his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The Mass will take place at 11 a.m. local time July 8 in the chapel of the pope’s residence, the Casa Santa Marta, and will be livestreamed.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance will be restricted to staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Department for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Pope Francis visited the Mediterranean island on July 8, 2013, shortly after his election. The trip, his first pastoral visit outside Rome, signaled that concern for migrants would be at the center of his pontificate.
Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, is located approximately 70 miles away from Tunisia. It is a primary destination for migrants from Africa seeking entry to Europe.
Reports say that during the coronavirus outbreak migrant boats have continued to land on the island, which has received tens of thousands of migrants in recent years.
The pope chose to visit the island after reading harrowing reports of migrants dying while attempting the crossing from North Africa to Italy.
Upon arrival, he threw a wreath into the sea in memory of those who had drowned.
Celebrating Mass close to a “boat cemetery” containing the remains of shipwrecked migrant boats, he said: “When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago, and realized that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart.”
“So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated!”
On October 3, 2013, more than 360 migrants died when the vessel carrying them from Libya sank off Lampedusa.
The pope marked the sixth anniversary of his visit last year with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, he called for an end to rhetoric that dehumanized migrants.
“They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues!” he said. “‘This is not just about migrants,’ in the twofold sense that migrants are first of all human persons, and that they are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society.”