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Pope Francis to visit refugee island off Sicily

By on Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Pope Frncis, pictured in St Peter's Square last week, will visit refugees off the coast of Italy (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Frncis, pictured in St Peter's Square last week, will visit refugees off the coast of Italy (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis will visit a tiny Italian island to greet refugees and immigrants, pray for those who have lost their lives at sea and call for greater solidarity.

The Vatican said Pope Francis was “deeply affected” by a recent tragedy in mid-June in which at least seven people drowned while they sought to stay afloat on a large tuna cage. They had been part of a group of nearly 100 immigrants who were jammed onto an inflatable raft sailing from North Africa.

To pay homage to these and countless other victims over the years, the Pope will make a half-day visit to Lampedusa on July 8.

He will take a short boat ride out to sea to toss a floral wreath into the water and pray for those who have lost their lives in their attempt to reach Italian soil. He also will visit with survivors and refugees on the island and celebrate an open-air Mass.

He will use the occasion to support “the island’s inhabitants and make an appeal to everyone’s responsibility of taking care of these brothers and sisters in extreme need,” the Vatican said in a July 1 statement announcing the trip.

The voyages often are made in dangerous and inhumane conditions, and the island’s infrastructure is overwhelmed by the large influx of immigrants.

The Italian bishops’ conference has called on Europe to recognize that Italy cannot handle the migration flow by itself. European bishops, too, have said the crisis requires the solidarity of all of Europe.

Recent crises in North Africa have only intensified what had already been a steady flow of thousands of immigrants a year to this small Italian island. It lies only 90 miles off the North African coast and has long been the gateway to Europe for North Africans and others fleeing violence or seeking a better life.

The announcement was part of an updated summer schedule for the pope.

The Vatican said there will be no weekly general audience for all of July and August; however, the pope will still recite the midday Angelus every Sunday, mostly at the Vatican.

Pope Francis also will follow a papal tradition and celebrate the feast of the Assumption Aug. 15 in the parish Church of St. Thomas, just across the main square from the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo. He will recite the Angelus with visitors gathered outside the villa.