Pope Francis led a moment of prayerful silence on Sunday for the hundreds of migrants killed off the coast of Lampedusa, saying they were like us in their search for happiness.
“They are men and women like us, our brothers who seek a better life: hungry, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war,” the Pope said in off-the-cuff remarks. “They were looking for happiness.”
The Pope was speaking during his weekly Regina Caeli address to the crowds in Saint Peter’s Square, some twelve hours following the accident.
Hundreds of people are feared dead after the boat carrying as many as 700 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the Italian coastguard.
The BBC reports that the ship went down at around midnight local time south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, a major entry point for migrants from northern Africa.
“I express my deepest sorrow in the face of such a tragedy, and assure my remembrance in prayer for the lost and their families,” Pope Francis said in his Apr. 19 address.
He invited those in the crowd to take a moment of prayerful silence for those killed in last night’s boat accident before leading the crowds in praying the Hail Mary.
The pontiff then made a “heartfelt appeal” to the international community to act “decisively and promptly”, in order to prevent similar tragedies from being repeated.
Thousands have made their way to Lampedusa from Africa over the years, with scores of migrants dying en route, often due to factors such as overcrowding on the boats.
Today’s tragedy comes less than two years after a boat carrying 500 migrants sank off coast of Lampedusa, killing at least 300.
Pope Francis had visited the island a few months earlier, in July 2013, praying for the migrants, both living and those who perished en route.
The BBC reports that some 900 migrants are believed to have died since the beginning of 2015 trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Before leading the crowds in reciting the Regina Caeli, Pope Francis reflected on the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, centering his address on the theme of “witness.”
In the first reading, Pope Francis cited the words of St. Peter: “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:14-15).
Turning to the Gospel, the Pope reflected on Jesus telling the disciples that they were “witnesses” of His death and resurrection.
“Every baptized person is called to give witness, with (his) words and life, that Jesus is risen, that Jesus is alive and present among us.”
The identity and mission of the witness, Pope Francis said, is summarized into three words: to see, to remember, and to recount.
“The content of the Christian witness is not a theory, not an ideology, or a complex system of precepts and prohibitions or a moralism,” the pontiff said.
Rather: “It is a message of salvation, a concrete event, even a Person: It is Christ risen, living, and only savior of everyone.”
The witness of a Christian is “all the more credible,” when it shines through a way of living that is “evangelical, courageous, gentle, peaceful, merciful.”
On the other hand, a Christian who seeks comfort, vanity, selfishness, while becoming “deaf and blind the question of ‘resurrection’”, Pope Francis asked, “how can he communicate the living Jesus,” the “liberating power of Jesus alive and his infinite tenderness?”
Pope Francis concluded his Regina Caeli address by asking Mary’s intercession to help Christians become “witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection, carrying to the persons who we encounter the Easter gifts of Joy and Peace.”