The visit to Malta by the pope represented an important moment for the life of the island. This was a promise kept, a long-awaited meeting postponed due to the pandemic, which testified to the pope’s attention and sensitivity to migration issues: “Since the day I visited Lampedusa, I have not forgotten you. You are always in my heart and in my prayers.”
Malta is the gateway to Europe, as Pope Francis himself has said several times. This has been discussed with the Maltese political sphere as well as with the population and local organisations.
In a country with a deep Catholic tradition, we cannot betray our values by letting people die at sea.
As time passes, we cannot forget how the Maltese population had welcomed Saint Paul when he landed on the island, providing him with a safe haven.
In this regard, the Holy Father quotes the Acts of the Apostles: “They were treated with unusual kindness” (28,2), making reference to the way in which the Maltese welcomed the Apostle Paul and all those who were shipwrecked with him. “Not merely with kindness but with rare humanity, a special care.”
Pope Francis hopes that Malta can rediscover that spirit and become a “safe harbour” for all those people seeking safety in its shores.
The meeting at the Pope John XXIII Peace Lab in the Ħal Far Centre for Migrants was a highly significant moment. The pope met migrants and those who work daily to help them in their process of integration in Maltese society, defined by the Holy Father as “peace workers”.
MOAS attended this important meeting, with Lamin, a person whom we have supported since he was inhumanely abandoned, despite being wounded, on the side of a road after a disastrous fall on the construction site where he was working.
With him, we gave to Pope Francis a life jacket that MOAS had used during one of the most complex rescues carried out in the Mediterranean Sea, when we worked tirelessly for 18 hours to save the lives of the people who were at risk of losing it.
To us, that life vest is the symbol of salvation, a tool we all need because, as human beings, we are all in the same boat.
That life vest is the symbol of salvation, a tool we all need because, as human beings, we are all in the same boat- Regina Catrambone
It was a very exciting meeting, which renewed our hopes and the awareness that only by saving others can we all be saved. This was an invitation to commit ourselves to the rescue of those who drown in the Mediterranean and to avert “the shipwreck of civilisation”, which threatens not only migrants but us all.
How can we save ourselves from this shipwreck which risks sinking the ship of our civilisation?
By conducting ourselves with kindness and humanity. By regarding people not merely as statistics but for what they really are: people, men and women, brothers and sisters, each with his or her own life story.
By imagining that those same people we see on crowded boats or adrift in the sea, on our television sets or in the newspapers “could be any one of us or our sons or daughters...”
The reflection and the debate prompted by the pope also touched upon some issues that continue to be unresolved, addressing in particular the need for intervention by the world of European and Maltese politics.
The need to create a humane system of reception and inclusion, to reduce detention measures for those who arrive in Malta, to quickly ensure the custody of minors, to improve access to the housing system for migrants. These are the pillars from which we have to start.
My hope is that the pope’s words will be listened to and that they will be used as guidance for the adoption of decisions necessary for the great challenges of the present and the future.
Regina Catrambone, MOAS co-founder and director