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The Globalization of Indifference (Update)

This morning Pope Francis visited the tiny island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily. As I reported in a previous post, the island is closer to Tunisia than to Sicily. It is therefore the destination of many from North Africa, seeking a better life for themselves and their children.Tragically, a number have perished making the voyage.

Francis chose the island for his first journey outside Rome, going to the margins where the most needy are to be found.

Here is a report from Vatican News:

The Holy Father wore violet vestments during the Mass, calling it a “liturgy of repentance.”

“God asks each one of us: Where is the blood of your brother that cries out to me?,” Pope Francis said during his homily, quoting from the Genesis story of Cain and Abel. “Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility.”

“The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference,” he continued. “In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.”

The voyage has created tremendous attention in the Italian Press. It will be interesting to see whether it receives much notice here.


Andrea Tornielli, one of the most knowledgable Vatican commentators his written:

But the Pope’s visit to Lampedusa on this hot summer day is emblematic for other reasons as well. The Pope has shown that he can travel around Italy without all the usual pomp and ceremony of a papal visit, without queues of politicians and institutional representatives in tow and without being surrounded by bishops and cardinals. He can go and private visit – or at least as private as a papal visit can be – doing away with anything superfluous, getting around in an off-road car and using a wooden crozier and chalice made using the wood from the boats that came to the island carrying groups of immigrants in desperate search of a better life. The Pope’s visit to Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe could be a possible model for the future, the promise of a pontificate of change, which is evident even in its early days.

The rest is here.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Interesting that Pope Francis is wearing violet and, instead of merely condeming the surrounding culture, is  asking for forgiveness. He really thinks of himself as part of the world, in the culture, one of us. He feels fraternal responsibility in spite of not having personal responsibility. In that way as well, he is "going to the margins", sharing responsibility and therefore repentance, and in that way, reaching out to those who are indifferent. How can one not want to follow him when he is trying so hard to be united with all?


I wonder, though, how much of it is indifference and how much is a sense of helplessness?

 The information revolution means that most of us in the rich nations are aware of the major tragedies that occur every day, all over the world. We know in seconds, as the stories flash up on our news feeds.  I don't know about others, but I find it overwhelming at times.  Tragedies this week included the 19 firefighters who died in Arizona, the murder of 55 students and teachers in schools in northern Nigeria whose sin was "teaching western education", bombing deaths in the mid-east, dozens dead in protests in Cairo. Etc, etc.  So often I feel helpless when faced with the non-stop drumbeat of news of the world's tragedies. The plight of refugees all over the world is heartbreaking;  the reports of gruesome murders against those trying to stop the drug wars in Mexico; the ever increasing rates of human trafficking and slavery, the ongoing situation in Syria and the growing refugee problem from that  - what do we do about it - all of it? What CAN we do about it?  

Anne and all:

"Accept an assignment.  Then you don't have to be responsible for everything."  

-  Sister Corita Kent, IHM


A quick check on Google finds the story reported by the BBC, the Guardian, and several news outlets in the US among which are the Boston Herald, but not the NY Times, WaPo, LA Times, etc. They'll probably get around to it eventually, but the silence does so far suggest perhaps that Francis is not behaving the way a pope is popularly meant to behave, and if he really wants an audience in the US, he should be restricting himself to condemning secularism, gay marriage,etc. etc. . . the expected topics, of course.

My daughter in Italy tells me that Lampedusa is the main entry point for African immigrants into Italy, and thus to the EU, and the Italians wonder which side Swedes, Danes, and other such northern European countries would be on if they were right next to Africa and the Middle East.

Is Lampedusa also where Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa -- author of The Leopard -- came from? a 1958 novel that a) on a scale of four, gets five stars; and b) explains a lot about Italy and its periodic malaises.


he was born in Palermo, son and heir of the Prince of Lampedusa. I saw the film version of "Il Gattopardo" in Palermo in 1963, and thought it terrific.

 With regard Francis and contemporary culture check the complete text of his remarks to Seminarians on Saturday:

I think indifference to other people's needs is something learned and maybe it can be unlearned.

I volunteer with the Girl Scouts and I'm always impressed with how earnestly these young girls, these children, work on service projects.

One girl recently did a project meant to in some way help a new mother; the girl did some fundraising and used some of her own money to put together a gift basket of items for a young mother living in a homeless shelter.  The girl put this gift basket together with as much care and concern as if it were for her own sister, right down to carefully selecting the congratulations card and the packaging and she  brought the gift to the shelter to give to the mother.

The young mother, just a girl herself, probably wasn't receiving  a whole lot of  congratulations and gifts for her new baby.  The $100 gift basket didn''t do anything to change the young mother's financial circumstances, but I think the sincere concern for her well-being and the honest congratulations on the birth of her baby made that gift something more than it would have been otherwise.

I think if we  adults could find a way to care about other people, strangers, the way children and young people seem to be able to, we could turn around that global indifference.


“…the silence does so far suggest perhaps that Francis is not behaving the way a pope is popularly meant to behave…”

As one very conservative and, to my mind nasty priest blogger has encouraged his followers to give Pope Francis time so that he can learn how to be pope.

Sorry, Father, you may have to wait until hell freezes over.

the silence does so far suggest perhaps that Francis is not behaving the way a pope is popularly meant to behave, - See more at:


“…the silence does so far suggest perhaps that Francis is not behaving the way a pope is popularly meant to behave…”

One very conservative and, to my mind nasty, priest blogger has encouraged his followers to give Pope Francis time so that he can learn how to be pope.

Sorry, Father, you may have to wait until hell freezes over.


Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility.

Nuance and fine distinctions are hard to do in a short homily, I suppose, but I think Pope Francis speaks too broadly here. Surely many millions of individuals are doing what they can to alleviate their brothers' and sisters' distress. And many organizations are laboring in the same fields. It is the largest structures, those at the national and international level, that fail most often, sometimes out of indifference or even hostility to those in need, but more often from the feckless but realistic fear of making things worse by an intervention.

Cain's sin was the murder of a flesh-and-blood brother, and thus an attack on his own small community, without which humans do not survive for long. Until fairly recently in our bloody history, it was acceptable, even meritorious, to oppress and kill those outside our own group. The circle of inclusiveness and the awareness of a shared humanity are still growing too slowly, but they are growing. We are just not very good yet at acting on them. But it seems to me that we are doing better than we used to do.

using a wooden crozier and chalice made using the wood from the boats that came to the island carrying groups of immigrants in desperate search of a better life.

Another bull's-eye.  This is ingenious.  

Pope Francis faced (not for the first time) the usual homilist's problem: The people who don't need to hear what he is saying, because they are doing what he urges, feel badly because they cannot rise to a higher level. The people who need to hear it have a whole list of how everything is wonderful, in its own way, and there is nothing more they need to do, thank you very much. ("O Lord, I thank you that I throw in a sizeable check ($20) for CRS every year unlike those other folks.")

Francis dealt with that this way: "So many of us, even including myself, are disordiented, we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live." Well, we know the bus-riding archbishop is more attentive than we are. So where does that leave us?

This guy is good!

On the topic of the more portable papacy that can go without entourages and papal accoutrements, and intending no implicit or explicit criticisms of anyone, but truly--gold candlesticks and sumptuous vestments, doctrinal corrections and florid condemnations never were going to convert the world. Never. As the Esquire writer (an atheist) has it, Francis is "kinda awesome." Simplicity and sincerity get through. The Kingdom moves incrementally closer. Hooray.

Mark - thank you. I need to remind myself of that whenever I read the news!


I'm glad that Francis felt comfortable in saying that people of other faiths can get spiritual gains from following their own religious practices


I give a thought, too, to the dear Muslim immigrants that are beginning the fast of Ramadan, with best wishes for abundant spiritual fruits. The Church is near to you in the search for a more dignified life for yourselves and for your families.


Text from page

of the Vatican Radio website 


Looks as it's getting pretty good coverage in the US:


The NYTimes, so far, has published two articles on the Pope's trip to Lampedusa. 




Yesterday (pre-trip)


On the WaPo site, a search on "pope lampedusa" turned up 6 articles.


On LATimes, search wasn't working but I found this article im the "World" section:

Amazing that the whole scheduled  time from plane landing at Lampedusa to plane taking off for Rome was only an hour and a half.  Francis has figured out how to accomplish a lot in a short period of time.  Very effective.

Here's the programme with times

God bless Italy for taking in the refugees.  Is there any systematic agreement among the other European nations to take in the refugees?  Germany and France have taken in a lot of Muslims, Great Britain has taken in some,  and the U. N. has world-wide concerns, but it doesn't seem strong enough to do a great deal of  good.  And, of course, the U.S. has taken in millions of immigrants from the south.  

Shouldn't there be some overall world institution for helping the people who in countries which simply cannot support their populations?  Is this what Pope Francis is really asking for?  (Further, considering that over-population is a cause of much of the immigration problem, and considering that Humanae Vitae has not been received by the Faithful, shouldn't Pope Francis be reconsidering that encyclical?

What I'm getting at it that when economically blessed nations are presented with major social dislocations, as Christians we must to help them.  But just feeding and housing the refugees when they get here isn't enough.  We have to somehow help them to change their original circumstances.  Immigration should be a last resort .  

After Katrina I was a refugee for two months.  Though I knew I would eventually returny, I was miserable because of it -- and that was typical of the Katrina refugees.  How must these millions of immigrants feel knowing they will rarely go back home -- if ever?  No, immigration should be a last resort.  But what can the solution be?



Mons. Marini seems to have come on board with the Franciscan messaging and put his talents to it


It was a hot day.. Bishops wore ballcaps and Francis draped white cloth over his head for protection from the sun. No Saturno Papale for him.


Rocco reports:

As noted by Catholic News Service, the ritual text employed by Francis was that of a Mass of Reparation ("for the Remission of Sins") in light of the suffering of the innocent, the Pope and his concelebrants – some of whom wore ballcaps to shade themselves from the summer sun – all vested in penitential violet. 


To underscore the tone of the pontiff's "profound" emotion, which the Vatican referred to in announcing today's quickly-planned visit, Francis likewise donned the papal "mourning" miter – simple white, lined with gold – which, per tradition, a Pope dons only for two occasions: funeral liturgies and Good Friday... until he's buried in it. In the same vein, the monsignori of Papa Bergoglio's entourage hewed to the new script by leaving their purple at home and donning unadorned black cassocks for the day. 


On leaving the migrant group to head to Mass by means of an open jeep, a lucky TV crew was able to stick a microphone in front of Francis and get his unscripted mind on the moment.


"I'm here to pray," the Pope said. "And I want to help."

Ann, solving the underlying problems will take a while - bringing about peace in countries that are at war within themselves or against their neighbors, and developing economies to be able to support the population and provide social safety nets for those without jobs are the ultimate solutions, but obviously not easily achieved.

Here is  information on the UN agency that coordinates help for refugees. It includes coverage of the pope's visit.

The pope, and then the pope. Do we risk canonizing Pope Francis even before he dies? When the papal shoulder cape, the zimarra, on a gusty day and at sea, covers the pope's head should this be seen as a papal innovation? It happened to Benedict many times, and no one saw it as other than the effect of a strong wind.

It seems to me that the suspension of the daily papal homilies from yesterday until September may not be altogether a bad thing. Seizing on their favorite saying, commentators appeared to be vying with each other to offer their own interpretations, influenced, at times I thought, by their chosen positions. Can popes talk too much? If so, can this crowd out our local bishop and, even more, our parish priests?

Sandro Magister, who had great regard for Pope Benedict XVI, seems at a bit of a loss on how to deal with Pope Francis. Yesterday he had a lead article in ESPRESSO, with the, to me, rather desperate title, "Il Papa non e' di sinistra." "The Pope is not a leftist."

There is reason for much hope, but would a little calm, say through December, be helpful? And what of  the local or particular Churches, the dioceses, and perhaps even more, the USCCB? So far, I don't see much change. But admittedly, it's early days yet.

The second intercession from Evening Prayer yesterday, in a rough translation, "Protect our pope, Francis, and our local bishop; strengthen them with the power of your Spirit: - -  Fulfill the yearnings of your people, Lord."



"no one saw it as other than the effect of a strong wind" – on the order of Acts 2:2?

It seems to me that some more traditional or conservative Catholics are experiencing cognitive dissonance about Pope Francis.  As one such Catholic blogger has written recently: “Would it be too much for your humble sensibilities to throw one a little brocade once and while? I mean you are Pope. I’m pretty sure it’s not a sin to look like one.” followed by “I really do want to love this guy.”

In addition, I think that some people either do not like or are afraid of the unexpected. I used to find it amusing to observe the reactions of some parishioners to a homily.  One group loved to hear the priest say things in the way that were familiar to them, in the way they learned it in Catholic school while others loved to hear other ways of looking at and expressing the Gospel message.

Pope Francis is full of surprises. It reminds me that Jesus was like that, too. He ate with so-called sinners, conversed intelligently in public with women, invited a despised tax collector into his inner circle, and gave Himself to us in common bread and wine.  I could go on and, as a matter of fact I think that I am going to do some more research on how many times Jesus did the unexpected.


Anne --

Thanks for the address.  The U. N. does indeed do a great deal for refugees in transit and for those stuck in camps just outside their own countries.  But for many their needs remain huge when are trying to integrate into their new ones.  There just isn't enough help to go around.

There just isn't enough help to go around. Ann, that is why I expressed that these situations produce (in me) not indifference but too often a sense of helplessness.  The need is so overwhelming.

OMG ... to look like a pope, one has to wear a bit of brocade?  Is that what the papacy had become during Francis' two predecessors' reigns ... a bit of brocade?

I guess the hype about Pope Francis is over the top.  But he makes me feel good about being a Catholic, and I would like to just enjoy feeling this way for a little while. 

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