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Pope Francis greets immigrants, blasts indifference over migration deaths

On Pope Francis's first visit outside Rome, to a tiny Sicilian island that is the primary point of entry into Europe for African migrants, Pope Francis challenged everyone to take responsibility for the migrants' desperation, urging them not to have 'anesthesia of the heart.'

By Nicole Winfield and Trisha ThomasAssociated Press / July 8, 2013

Pope Francis blesses the faithful as he is driven through the crowd on the island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Monday July 8. Pope Francis traveled to the tiny Sicilian island to pray for migrants lost at sea. In Pope Francis's homily, he said, 'The culture of our own well-being makes us insensitive to the cries of others.'

Gregorio Borgia/AP

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LAMPEDUSA, Sicily

Pope Francis on Monday denounced the "globalization of indifference" that greets migrants who risk their lives trying to reach Europe, as he traveled to the farthest reaches of Italy to draw attention to their plight and to pray for those who never made it.

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The tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a treeless, strip of rock nine kilometers (four miles) long, is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland and is the main port of entry into Europe for African migrants smuggled by boat from Libya or Tunisia.

Francis decided last week to visit Lampedusa as his first pastoral visit outside of Rome, spurred by a particularly deadly crossing in which a dozen migrants lost their lives. After the Pope's spur-of-the-moment decision, the island built a makeshift altar out of recycled wood from shipwrecked migrants boats.

Francis greeted newly arrived migrants, and during Mass on the island's sports field, thanked the residents for welcoming so many men and women over the years. He prayed for those who died trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.

"Who wept for these people who were aboard the boat?" Francis asked in his homily. "For the young mothers who brought their babies? For these men who wanted to support their families?"

"We are a society that has forgotten how to cry," he said.

Dozens of Lampedusan fishing boats accompanied Francis' coast guard ship as it pulled into port, a seaborne motorcade to honor the first pope to visit an island that often complains it has been forgotten by Europe as it processes the thousands of would-be immigrants who come ashore each year.

"Pope Francis, only you can save us," read a banner on one of the boats. "You're one of us," said a spray-painted sign hanging from an apartment building overlooking the port.

As his plane was landing, a boat carrying 162 Eritreans arrived in port, the latest in a new wave of migrants taking advantage of calm seas and warm weather to make the treacherous crossing. Officials said they were in good condition, just cold.

Francis, whose ancestors immigrated to Argentina from Italy, has a special place in his heart for refugees: As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he denounced the exploitation of migrants as "slavery" and said those who did nothing to help them were complicit by their silence.

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