“I think the world is thirsting for peace today,” Pope Francis told reporters on the flight from Rome to Havana on Sept. 19. “There are wars, migrants are fleeing, this wave of migration that comes from wars, are fleeing [from] death and seeking life,” he added.
He came onto the plane thinking about war and peace because just before leaving the Vatican he met one of the two refugee families that the Vatican has given refuge to in these days.
Speaking of that encounter he told us: “Today I was moved and became very emotional because when I left the Vatican, at St. Ann’s Gate, there was one of the refugee families—Syrian refugees—that are being hosted in the Vatican parish of St. Ann. You could see the pain in their faces.”
Ever since he became pope he has been deeply concerned at the plight of refugees, so much so that his first journey outside the Vatican was to the island of Lampedusa to weep for and draw attention to the almost 20,000 that have drowned in the Mediterranean on the perilous voyage to Europe where they hoped to get refugee from the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya and other countries. Some weeks ago he appealed to every Catholic parish in Europe to give hospitality to one refugee family. Many have responded positively to his appeal, and if all do close to a half-million people can be housed and protected.
Today, Pope Francis is increasingly troubled at the spreading conflict and killings in the Middle East and North Africa, which is producing wave after wave of refugees. He is convinced that a worldwide war is being waged piecemeal, or “in stages” and he is disturbed at the inability of the international community to halt these conflicts and its failure to protect the civilian populations in the different lands.
It was clear to many of the 76 reporters accompanying him on this journey to Cuba and the United States that he will return to this pressing issue in his talks in the coming days to the US Congress and, in particular, to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Sept. 25. This is a pope who believes that this dramatic and pressing reality demands concrete action, not endless discussions which in the end resolve nothing.
Francis ended his brief greeting to the media personnel on the plane by thanking them “for all you do in your work to be bridges, small bridges of peace, because each bridge, each little bridge, one after the other, makes a big bridge of peace.”
He also extended his greetings to the thousands of reporters in different parts of the world who are covering this papal trip, and also the many reporters who would have liked to have been on the plane but could not get a place.
Earlier the Director of the Vatican’s Press Office, Federico Lombardi, S.J., told him that no other papal foreign trip to-date had generated such media interest. There had been over 140 requests for places on the plane, but they could only accommodate 76, he said. One third are from the United States media, among them America‘s correspondent, but there is only one Cuban aboard, Rosa Elizalde from CubaDebate website. She thanked the pope for his beautiful message on the eve of this trip, and Francis replied, “I love the Cuban people.”
The smiling pope, ever full of energy, concluded his brief greeting by drawing the reporters’ attention to the fact that this is the longest trip that he has undertaken as pope—“one day longer than Brazil”—and that means, he added with a smile, “you will have a lot of hard work to do.”