By Devin Watkins
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will celebrate Mass on Wednesday to mark the seventh anniversary of his first papal trip outside Rome, which saw him visit the Italian island of Lampedusa to offer comfort to migrants.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, announced Monday that Pope Francis will celebrate Mass on 8 July to commemorate his pastoral visit to Lampedusa.
The Pope will preside at Mass at 11 AM Rome time in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, with only a handful of Vatican employees present.
“Given the health situation, only the staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development will participate in the Mass,” Bruni said.
On 8 July 2013, Pope Francis made his first official visit outside Rome to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
At the time, the island off the coast of Sicily was seeing a vast influx of migrants making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing from the African continent.
The so-called Arab Spring, which began in late 2010, had caused unrest in many North African countries, forcing many to flee.
Tens of thousands of migrants landed on Lampedusa’s shores, which lies 113km from the coast of Tunisia.
Solidarity with those who flee
During his historic visit, Pope Francis prayed for the numerous people who drowned seeking a better life in Europe.
He mourned the dead by throwing a wreath of flowers into the sea, and celebrated an open-air Mass.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office at the time, described the Pope’s visit in these words:
“The important thing is to understand the true significance of this day, which is – for the Pope – before all else a gesture of solidarity, a call to focus everyone’s attention on one of the grave problems of our time: that of forced migration caused by so many terrible motives, among which are the lack of liberty, hunger, many other problems that make migrants’ lives in their native lands extremely difficult and even impossible.”