By Justin McLellan | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Human traffickers must be stopped from risking the lives of migrants traveling in search of a better future, Pope Francis said.
After praying the Angelus with some 25,000 visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 5, the pope prayed for the victims of a shipwreck off the coast of Cutro in Italy’s southern province of Crotone, which killed at least 70 people Feb. 26.
A boat carrying some 180 migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Palestine and Somalia, among other countries, sank near the Italian coast after sailing from Turkey. Only 80 survivors had been found as of the morning March 6, local time, suggesting the death toll could still rise.
According to Italy’s border police, the migrants each paid smugglers 8,000 euros (about $8,500) to be taken to Europe. They were crammed into an overcrowded wooden boat without life jackets, and many of them did not know how to swim.
“That human traffickers be stopped, and that they do not continue to take the lives of so many innocent people,” Pope Francis prayed after the Angelus.
“May the journeys of hope never again turn into journeys of death,” he said. “May the clean waters of the Mediterranean no longer be bloodied by such tragic accidents.”
The pope also expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the local people and aid organizations for their “solidarity and welcome toward these our brothers and sisters.”
The Italian government has been criticized for implementing policies that complicate efforts by aid organizations to rescue migrants off the Italian coast. Prosecutors have launched investigations into the smugglers that took the migrants from Turkey and into possible delays by Italian authorities in responding to the migrant boat.
The U.N. migration agency estimates that 220 migrants have died or gone missing crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella traveled to Crotone March 2 to pay his respects to the migrants who lost their lives in the shipwreck. Archbishop Angelo Panzetta of Crotone and an imam prayed before the coffins of 67 migrants that were laid out in a local sports center before the president’s arrival.
Pope Francis also recalled the victims of a train crash in Greece Feb. 28, which killed 57 people, injured 80, and sparked protests throughout the country over the largest train disaster in the country’s history.