Pope Francis abandoned his bullet-proof popemobile and instead used a borrowed open-topped Fiat in his first pastoral trip outside of Rome.
Francis was on a no-frills trip to the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, taking a small entourage and borrowing a more than 20-year-old Fiat Campagnola to get to a Mass in a sports field.
“The Pope said he wanted nothing wasted on this trip,” said a spokesman for the local mayor.
“Since everyone knows everyone here, the town hall contacted a man who owns a villa and asked to borrow his car, which is over 20 years old,” he said.
Pope Francis denounced the “globalisation of indifference” that greets migrants who risk their lives trying to reach Europe, as he travelled to the farthest reaches of Italy to draw attention to their plight and to mourn those who never made it.
Lampedusa, a treeless strip of rock 9km 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, compelled by a particularly deadly crossing in which a dozen migrants died. Despite the spur-of-the-moment decision, the island came through, building a lectern, pastoral staff, and chalice out of recycled wood from shipwrecked migrant boats.
Francis greeted newly arrived Africans and during an open-air Mass, thanked the residents for welcoming so many men and women over the years.
However, the core reason for the visit, he said, was to mourn those who died trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. He tossed a wreath of flowers into the sea in their memory, calling their deaths a “thorn in the heart” that occurs so often it is simply ignored.
Francis, whose ancestors emigrated from Italy to Argentina, 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. He repeated that message, railing against smugglers who take advantage of the poverty of migrants to enrich themselves.
On Saturday, he warned his audience against seeking “the joy of the world, the latest smart phone, the fastest car”.
“It hurts my heart when I see a priest with the latest model car,” he said, then joking that his audience will think “now we have to go by bicycle”.