Pope Francis, with his humble gestures and unassuming nature, promises to be one of the most influential spiritual leaders of all time. His decision to travel to Lampedusa to meet illegal immigrants and pray with them has perhaps ignited a sense of shame among Catholics, particularly the self-professed type whose idea of being a true Catholic is rooted in artificial ceremonies and Mass attendance.
The periodic arrivals of African immigrants in Malta, the country with possibly the strongest Catholic devotion, provide an egregious example of the presence of religious bigotry that pervades the island. Beyond the prayers, the psalms, the fasting and the oaths, there’s a collective consciousness that harbours racist and xenophobic sentiments.
As summer kicks in, so do the weekly village feasts. As statues of saints are paraded through the streets of Malta’s towns and fervently hailed by devotees, the African refugees landing on the island’s shores in the summer months are unceasingly met with disgust and resentment. After going through the trauma of their treacherous journeys, these immigrants are sent to detention centres, where living conditions might not be that much different than the ones they left behind before crossing the Mediterranean. They are socially excluded, exploited by their employers, verbally abused and assaulted, and their pursuit for freedom is irrevocably crushed. And all of this takes place in a country which is supposed to be 98% Catholic.
Upon the arrival of 291 illegal immigrants in the first week of July, Malta’s Prime Minister, who claims to run a country from a liberal approach (although the way his Party deals with social issues is never in line with liberal values), is considering sending future immigrants back to Libya unless the EU offers its immediate help on irregular immigration. When a political leader displays a lack of sympathy and compassion towards the suffering of outsiders, and threatens to ship them back to their life of doom and torment, you can’t really expect to witness a change in the population’s hostile attitude towards immigrants.
While some leaders have inspired us to be charitable and non-judgmental, history has also showed us that some leaders have the power to instill xenophobic sentiments in their followers. But when the majority votes for this kind of immoral leader, then the country’s biggest problem is actually the citizens, not the refugees.