A voice for the voiceless

A voice for the voiceless Pope Francis greets Syrian refugees he brought to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos.
Pope Francis in Ireland
Pope Francis: a champion for the cause of migrants, writes Chai Brady


Continuously being a strong advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees, it seems wholly appropriate that Pope Francis’ first pastoral visit outside Rome was Lampedusa – where migrants have arrived in huge numbers over the years.

In the past two decades 400,000 migrants have arrived on the small Italian island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, which has been called the ‘door of Europe’, with many asylum seekers from Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Gambia, Maghreb, Sudan and Tunisia travelling there to seek sanctuary.

Many who risk the journey have lost their lives. Pope Francis laid a wreath in the sea to commemorate the almost 20,000 people who had died.

Although this visit, which took place five years ago in July, was quickly overshadowed by his trip to Brazil for World Youth Day a few days later, it set the theme for his papacy – particularly when he spoke about what he calls a “globalisation of indifference” to migrants, styling them as primary victims of a “throw-away culture”.

It’s not just in his pastoral visits Francis has turned the spotlight toward migrants and refugees, but in many of his homilies in the Vatican.


Recently, in June of this year, he likened people whose hearts are closed to welcoming them to those of the Pharisees – who often preach sacrifice and following God’s law without exercising mercy to those in need.

In a homily commemorating the fifth anniversary of his visit to Lampedusa he said Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees’ “insidious murmuring” is “a finger pointed at the sterile hypocrisy of those who do not want to ‘dirty their hands’, like the priest or the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan”.

“This is a temptation powerfully present in our own day. It takes the form of closing our hearts to those who have the right – just as we do – to security and dignified living conditions. It builds walls, real or virtual, rather than bridges.”

Francis recalled his visit to Lampedusa and repeated “that timeless appeal to human responsibility, ‘Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me’”.

Sadly, he said, “the response to this appeal, even if at times generous, has not been enough, and we continue to grieve thousands of deaths”.


Overcoming the fear of the unknown is paramount to humanising migrants, Francis has said many times, and politicians have a role in creating spaces were citizens and migrants can meet.

Pope Francis told 1,000 people in Bologna last year. “Many people don’t know you and they’re afraid.”

“From far away, we can say and think anything, like easily happens when they write terrible phrases and insults on the internet,” the Pope said.

The fear “makes them feel they have the right to judge and to do so harshly and coldly, thinking they see clearly,” the Pope said. “But it’s not true. One sees well only up close, which gives mercy.”

He said this just four days after he kicked off Caritas Internationalis’ ‘Share the Journey’ campaign to encourage Catholics to meet a migrant or refugee and listen to his or her story.

‘Share the Journey’ is an awareness campaign that promotes opportunities and spaces for migrants and communities to come together and share stories and experiences with the aim of strengthening the bonds between them.

Francis launched the campaign last year on September 27.

Caritas says the reason they are running the campaign is because: “Pope Francis urges us to promote the culture of encounter in an effort to combat the culture of indifference in the world today. It means seeing through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye.”

The campaign will continue until near the end of 2019 and resources for individuals who want to get involved can be found at http://journey.caritas.org/


In 2016 Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos, which was at the heart of one of Europe’s greatest refugee crisis since World War II, with some 5,000 people arriving on its shores – mainly from war-torn Syria – on a daily basis.

Since 2015, thousands of people died while crossing the Eastern Mediterranean, many in boats completely unsuitable for travelling long sea journeys.

On his return journey Francis brought three Syrian refugee families, 12 people, back to Rome after visiting one of the frontline camps in Greece despite borders being largely shut due to the huge influx of refugees.

He said he saw “much suffering” at the sprawling fenced complex on the Aegean island, with many adults and children breaking down in tears in front of him.

When asked on the papal flight back to Rome from Greece about several European countries that are reinforcing their borders to keep migrants out Pope Francis said “we must take a real responsibility for welcoming”.

“How do we integrate these people with us? I’ve said this, but making walls is not the solution. We saw it in the last century, the fall of one. It doesn’t resolve anything,” he said.

“We must make bridges and bridges are made with intelligence, dialogue, integration. I understand the fear, but to close the borders doesn’t resolve anything. Because in the long run, that closure will hurt the people themselves.

“Europe must make a policy of welcoming, integration, growth, work, the reform of the economy. All of these are the bridges that lead us to not making walls. After what I’ve seen in that refugee camp, and what you saw, was to cry about.”

Speaking about his time in Greece this year, Francis said that while he was “enchanted” by the scenery, “I was struck by the thought that such a beautiful sea had become a tomb for men, women and children who had for the most part sought only to escape inhumane conditions in their own homelands”.

He said this in a letter to Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who was also in Lesbos with him.

Pope Francis’ parents were themselves migrants, who emigrated from Italy to Buenos Aires in Argentina to escape the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini.

It can’t be understated that Francis has never shied away from being a voice for the most marginalised, or the ‘alien’, throughout his papacy, and has pushed the Faithful to strive for a greater understanding and tolerance of those with different beliefs and ideals.