Vatican City, Oct 2, 2014 / 04:03 am .- In a private audience between Pope Francis and the survivors and family members of the 368 migrants who perished in a tragic shipwreck last fall, the pontiff asked the world to be open to those who suffer.
“I feel things that I can’t tell you because I can’t find the words to say them,” the Pope said during the Oct. 1 encounter. “All that you have suffered should be contemplated in silence, crying and looking for a way to be close to you.”
“Sometimes when it seems you have arrived at the port, there are very difficult things to face. You find closed doors and you do not know where to go,” he continued. However “there are many people who have an open heart for you,” and “the door of the heart is the most important in these moments.”
“I ask all men and women of Europe to open the doors of the heart! I want to say that I am close to you, I pray for you (and) I pray for closed doors because they open!”
The audience, which took place in a small hall adjacent to the large chamber of the Paul VI Hall, commemorated an Oct. 3 shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa last year that killed 368 migrants, most of whom hailed from Eritrea – a small country in the Horn of Africa.
During the encounter, the 37 participants, including more than 20 of the 155 survivors, presented the Pope with a letter asking him to do all that he can to support migrants fleeing their homeland in search of a better life.
Also included in the letter was a plea for the Roman Pontiff to intercede in helping to obtain from the Italian government the ability to identify the remains of their loved ones, some of whom have not yet been recognized.
The Eritrean spokesman for the delegation, who identified himself as Adal, lost his younger brother Abraham in the incident, and was the only one to address to the Pope during the encounter, which lasted roughly 30 minutes.
“I told the Pope about Joni and we asked the Pope if he can help us to identify our beloved ones,” he told CNA Oct. 1 after the audience. “He promised that he can do everything he can to help us.”
Accompanied by his sister, Adal referred to how Pope Francis has often spoken about the plight of migrants and refugees, and how he even visited the island of Lampedusa himself after a shipwreck last spring.
“He has sent messages to refugees who come and to the rest of the world to treat people with humanity and with fraternity,” he said. “What else would you like him to do in addition to what he is doing now?”
Adal, who wore around his neck the rosary that Pope Francis had given to each of the participants, was able to identify the remains of his brother last year because of a bible found in a pocket on the corpse’s clothing, although he said he still wasn’t one hundred percent sure due to the poor state the body was in.
Those who haven’t yet been able to identify the remains of their loved ones were given a form to fill out by Italian officials, who will go on to search the remaining bodies in search of the ones that fit each description most accurately.
Before greeting each of the participants personally, Pope Francis was presented by the delegation with an iron sculpture depicting a bottle floating in the sea, in which a family is enclosed, the image of which is depicted on the t-shirts they wore.
A legal bill has also been presented in the last few days asking to officially mark Oct. 3 as the “Day in memory of the victims of the Sea.”