As the Vatican's Secretary of State addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean on Monday regarding the shared challenge of migration, Italy's Red Cross announced it is awarding the people of Lampedusa for their commitment to welcoming African emigrants. Lampedusa is a small Italian island, closer to Tunisia than it is to Sicily. The island is the primary destination for immigrants to Europe who are fleeing conflict and political instability in Africa and the Middle East, and since 1988, nearly 20,000 people have died in the Mediterranean trying to reach it. It was the site of Pope Francis' first official visit outside Rome, and he gave a nod to the island by nominating Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento — in whose territory Lampedusa is — for the cardinalate. The Italian Red Cross has said that it chose to award the people of Lampedusa because of their “generosity, refusal of prejudice, wish to alleviate human sufferings, grand spirit of brotherhood” which have made them “an example of humanity and collective responsibility” for all of Italy. The many challenges faced by the Mediterranean region, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said Feb. 2 to the Mediterranean parliamentary assembly in Monaco, “are not confined within any one national border, indeed they are both transnational and transregional in character. No country can remain unaffected by conditions in other countries and, similarly, the Mediterranean region, affected by crises within, is not immune to the effects of crises in neighbouring regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.” “This is a reality that all of you already know, however, it is important to restate it to remind ourselves of the important objective of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean and why it was instituted.” The assembly was founded in 2005 to help Mediterranean states work together and guarantee regional security and stability, and promote peace. The Holy See has observer status, and the cardinal described the assembly's primary goal as “the promotion of political dialogue that is based on principles that are common to all traditions and cultures.” Cardinal Parolin said the political instability in Libya, and war and terrorism in Iraq and Syria, “present huge challenges to the Mediterranean region and we have all too sadly witnessed the immense cost of human suffering.” These have caused many “to risk their lives to the merciless and unscrupulous acts of people traffickers and clandestine migration.” “Since the beginning of his pontificate Pope Francis has raised his concern on numerous occasions regarding this particular scourge,” the cardinal reminded the parliamentary representatives. He first quoted the Pope's Nov. 25 address to European Parliament, in which he called for “a united response to the question of migration.” Cardinal Parolin said that “this united response necessarily involves the cooperation of Countries from both sides of the Mediterranean to address the fundamental causes of migration and thus the Holy Father urged the adoption of 'fair, courageous and realistic policies which can assist the countries of origin in their own social and political development and in their efforts to resolve internal conflicts — the principal cause of this phenomenon.'” Cardinal Parolin then turned to Pope Francis' Jan. 12 address to ambassadors to the Holy See, in which he “forcefully returned again to the human tragedy of people obliged to flee their homelands because of war and political strife.” The Syrian civil war, Cardinal Parolin said, continues “to scar the Mediterranean region, not least through the arrival of refugees who are fleeing those conflicts, but also in ways that touch on the values and principles on which the societies which share the Mediterranean region are founded.” He cited the rise last year of “Islamic extremism and terrorism”, and said that “such ideological fundamentalism knows no borders and makes victims of all, without regard to ethnicity or religious affiliation.” Cardinal Parolin noted that “The Holy See is particularly concerned for the survival of the Christian minorities in the Middle East, because they and other religious groups suffer disproportionately the effects of Islamic extremism … at the same time, however, the Holy See recognises that Muslims, too, continue to suffer at the hands of those who justify violence and butchery in the name of God.” “It is regrettable that it needs to be said that violence in God's name can never be justified. However, each and every such act needs to be condemned unequivocally.” The Vatican Secretary of State then reiterated Pope Francis' call for religious leaders — especially Muslims — to condemn such groups as Islamic State. The Mediterranean has long been “the meeting place of cultures and peoples,” Cardinal Parolin reminded the parliamentarians, adding that “the challenge remains for the Mediterranean to renew itself as a place of encounter, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence … a brighter future is always possible through openness to others, dialogue and working for the common good.” He concluded, conveying Pope Francis' “hope that the discussions and reflections of this Assembly may contribute to a new culture of encounter among all the peoples of the Mediterranean region.”