ROME – On the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis pointed to St. Frances Cabrini as an example of how to treat foreigners, calling her a “courageous” woman who knew how to bring God’s love to those who were lonely and in hardship.
After praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 15, Pope Francis sent a special greeting to members of different ethnic communities who had gathered in honor of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
“I wish that you can live peacefully in the towns that welcome you, respecting their laws and traditions and, at the same time, maintaining the values of your cultures of origin,” the pope said, adding that “the meeting of different cultures is always an enrichment for all!”
Speaking to those who work directly with migrants, the pope thanked them for the welcome and accompaniment they provide to newcomers, and encouraged them to continue their efforts “always remembering the example of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini,” who is remembered in a special way this year, which marks the centenary of her death.
“This courageous Sister dedicated her life to bringing the love of Christ to those who were far from their homeland and families,” he said, adding that her witness can help us learn “to take care of our foreign brother, in whom Jesus is present, often suffering, rejected and humiliated.”
St. Cabrini, more commonly known as “Mother Cabrini,” was an Italian missionary who spent much of her life working with Italian immigrants in the United States. Though she had a deathly fear of water and drowning, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times in service of the Church and the people she was assisting.
After arriving to the U.S. she wasted no time getting to work, and traveled not only overseas, but also throughout the U.S. setting up orphanages, hospitals, convents, and schools for the often marginalized Italian immigrants.
Eventually, she became a naturalized U.S. citizen. She died in 1917 and was canonized in 1946, just before a new wave of immigrants began to arrive in the U.S. Due to her tireless service to struggling foreigners, she was named patron of immigrants.
Announced Oct. 13, the theme for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is “Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless,” and is meant to draw attention to the plight of the many children who suffer due to various forms of slavery and exploitation.
Speaking of the theme, Pope Francis said these “small brothers and sisters of ours, especially those who are unaccompanied, are exposed to so much danger.” Because of this, we must “adopt every possible measure in order to guarantee child migrants protection and defense, as well as their integration.”
The U.N. refugee agency has reported a sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors reaching Italy: 25,846 last year, more than double the previous year. Aid groups say if these young people survive the crossing, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by land-based traffickers once they reach Europe.
The International Organization of Migration, meanwhile, says it recorded 4,576 deaths in 2016 among migrants making the central Mediterranean crossing to Italy. The total number of dead is unknown, given that many bodies are never recovered.
Francis’ request on Sunday that “every possible measure” be taken to protect young refugees came as search and rescue efforts continued off Libya’s coast following the latest deadly Mediterranean migrant shipwreck.Italy’s coast guard said only four people survived the sinking of a migrant ship carrying around 100 people that went down 30 miles (49 kilometers) off the Libyan coast on Saturday. Only eight bodies have been recovered.
Two dead reached Italian shores on Sunday as the rescue ship Aquarius pulled into port in Messina, Sicily with some 300 migrants from rescue operations Friday. Two coffins were offloaded for family members to claim, UNHCR said.
Usually, bad weather and rough seas deter Libyan-based smugglers from launching overloaded boats full of migrants bound for Italy. But Italy’s coast guard reported 550 people were rescued Friday and another 800 on Thursday alone.
Further west, Spain’s maritime rescue service said the bodies of seven African migrants have been found dead along the Strait of Gibraltar since Friday.
The latest casualty was a woman who was found dead late Saturday aboard a drifting boat along the coast of Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta. Seven survivors were handed over to Spanish authorities.
The rescue service says the coast is being patrolled for survivors on another drifting boat that reportedly departed from neighboring Morocco. Six African migrants who drowned are thought to have been on the boat, which may have shipwrecked.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.