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Pope visits Italy's 'migrant island' of Lampedusa

Pope Francis pays an official visit to Lampedusa, where thousands of undocumented immigrants arrive from Africa each year in a bid to reach Europe.

pope lampedusa visit Enlarge
Pope Francis (C) prays after casting a wreath into the sea off Lampedusa island, a key destination of tens of thousands of would-be immigrants from Africa, during his visit on July 8, 2013. In a visit stripped of the usual pomp of papal travel, Francis will cast a wreath into the sea and hold a mass of mourning with a simple cross made from the wood of rickety fishing boats that migrants arrive on. (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis arrived at the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa by boat on Monday, where he stopped to pray for the migrants lost at sea in their efforts to make it to Europe. 

The small island, located only 86 miles from the Tunisian coast, is closer to northern Africa than it is to the Italian mainland — making it a widely used stopover on the journey between continents. 

The Pope condemned the "global indifference" to the plight of those making the dangerous and sometimes fatal trip, the BBC reported. Dedicating a mass to the memory of migrants lost at sea, he called for a "reawakening of consciences."

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The Pope's visit was welcomed by the 6,000 odd people who reside permanently on the island, wrote AFP, some of them carrying signs welcoming the pontiff to their home. 

"It means a lot to us islanders and to the whole world. It means we're not alone," 40-year-old nature reserve keeper Vincenzo Billeci told AFP.

The Pope is slated to be given a crucifix made of wood taken from discarded ships which refugees used to cross the waters to the island. 

Hours before he arrived, a ship carrying 166 Africans, possibly from Eritrea, touched down at the small island, wrote the BBC, adding to the influx of thousands of migrants the local community is contending with. 

The United Nations found that 8,400 illegal immigrants have landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of 2013 alone, almost double the 4,500 who arrived in the first half of 2012 — but still below the droves of people who made the trip following the 2011 Arab Spring, noted the Associated Press. 

Pope Francis, of Argentine descent, is making his first papal visit outside of Rome since his election in March, following the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/italy/130708/pope-visits-italys-migrant-island-lampedusa