Carlos Caso-Rosendi

Pope Francis receives presents all the time, mostly from visiting politicians. At times I have wondered what does the Vatican do with all that junk, some valuable, some ordinary. I guess all heads of state have that problem. Among the many gifts that arrived to the Vatican there was a wooden cross made by Franco Tuccio, a craftsman from Lampedusa, Sicily. The cross was made from wood taken from the many wrecked vessels abandoned on the beaches of the island after trying to reach the coasts of Southern Europe. When an earthquake shook the town of L’Aquila killing 300, Franco could not avoid hearing the constant flow of information about the minutest details of that terrible day and its aftermath. That made him think on the reasons why the media did not similarly cover the drama of the African boat people drowning week after week in the Mediterranean, many of them women and children. “Why don’t they talk about that?” thought Franco. So he decided to send Pope Francis a cross made with the wood of the wreckage.

Little did Franco imagine that his present was going to actually reach Pope Francis, and that the Pope was going to decide to visit Lampedusa in his first visit to a place outside Rome. Italy lamented the loss of life in L’Aquila and those victims clearly deserved our mourning. What was not so clear for Franco was this “A people” media coverage compared to the “B people” coverage. Today he continues to make crosses off the wreckage wood to remember the forgotten boat people.

Eventually the Pope called politicians and other influential people to act and do something to prevent the deaths of so many desperate human beings escaping from war, abject poverty, persecution, and famine. In Franco’s words “the words of the Pope went in the politicians’ one ear and off the other.” The wave of African immigrants continues unabated and also the wrecks and the drowning at sea.

Some may think the Pope’s gesture is a facile marketing move but I don’t think so. There is only so much the Church can do to help the poor —and let me state here that no one does more than the Church for the poor and downtrodden of this world— Catholic Charities and other organizations keep pouring hundreds of millions per year into relief efforts of all kinds but the harvest of poor people is plentiful and the workers are few.

Let us remember that God looks at every soul with the same eyes:

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.

Looking this week to the scandal surrounding the multi-million-euro business of FIFA [2] it dawned on me that typically left-leaning and self-righteous Europeans dedicate much more money to sporting endeavors and entertainment than to humanitarian causes. On one coast of the Mediterranean the anti-Christian jet-set rattles the jewelry applauding at Cannes, while on the other coast entire poor families drown. In his little workshop Franco keeps on making tiny wooden crosses.

[1] Psalm 62:9-12.

[2] Fédération Internationale de Football Association