The Pope at Lampedusa

My suffering is in God. My suffering is God.

Meister Eckhart

Wow! This mind-blowing koan worth is wrestling with. I will probably wind up wounded like Jacob before the koan turns me loose.

The first thing that comes to mind is something I think I first heard from Richard Rohr—God comes to us disguised as our life. Then, I think of the Buddha and his teaching that suffering, which is part of life, comes from attachment. This squares quite nicely with Eckhart’s teaching in The Book of Consolation. Eckhart says that when we focus on something other than God, we open the door to suffering. He goes on to say that God suffers but to God suffering is not suffering. It is joy. Finally, my mind flits back to the inscription over the gate to the monastic enclosure at the Abbey of gethsemane in Kentucky—God Alone!  When we focus on God Alone our suffering turns to compassion and mercy is the very being and life of God. This is as far as I have come with “understanding” Eckhart’s koan.

My ever-shifting monkey mind fast forwards to the tragic shipwreck of African refugees near the island of Lampedusa, Italy. Lampedusa has become a welcoming refugee center to people seeking a better life ( Hearing of the tragic loss of 110 lives, Pope Francis journeyed to Lampedusa to show his solidarity with the people of Lampedusa who open their doors and hearts to the refugees and with the refugees themselves. (Notice that he did not go to the papal chapel and offer a few prayers.) As he celebrated Mass he delivered a homily that challenges our indifference to suffering in the world. We have globalized indifference. This is not only about Italy. It is about US—the USA where we have buried the idea of the common good in the graveyard of our greed. It is also about more than the hospitable reception of refugees by the people of Lampedusa. It is about more than the structural economic violence that drives people across seas in hopes of a better life. It is ultimately about our personal complicity in a consumer culture which ostracizes and marginalizes others to assure our creature comforts. We can “Buy for Less” at Walmart because others around the globe work for much, much less to produce more and more cheaper disposable goods. Now we find out that underpaid Walmart workers in one store dug into their own meager coffers to help less fortunate fellow employees. They get what the WSaltons don’t. They practice compassion.

I guess the Lampedusa tragedy wakes some generational wounds in my own soul. As I read the accounts of Lampedusa, I though back to my forebears from Ireland. The boarded ships and crossed angry seas to find a better life. Many never make it to the shores of America. Crammed into the coffin ships many died of hunger and disease. The Irish Tenors’ “Isle of Hope” brings home the pathos of Irish refugees ( I am grateful that they came. I doubt that my great grandfather, Patrick, felt that he had found the “Promised Land” or the Isle of Hope as he labored in the coal mines deep below Scranton where he died in a mining accident in 1880 twenty years he and Catherine had come to the Isle of Hope—Ellis Island. Such was the indentured plight of miners that he probably owed his soul to the company store. They left behind the Isle of pain and hunger to seek a better life. We now know that there was enough food in Ireland; however, the greed-driven British occupiers were shipping it to England and overlooking the plight of the Irish. The lyrics for Isle of Hope can be found at

Today, ignoring the plight of brothers and sisters around the world, we ignore the actions of governments and global organizations that keep people in the servitude of poverty so that the billions who live on two dollars or less a day will never get a piece of the bigger pie.

The pope concluded his homily:

Lord, in this liturgy, a penitential liturgy, we beg forgiveness for our indifference to so many of our brothers and sisters. Father, we ask your pardon for those who are complacent and closed amid comforts which have deadened their hearts; we beg your forgiveness for those who by their decisions on the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies. Forgive us, Lord! Today too, Lord, we hear you asking: “Adam, where are you?” “Where is the blood of your brother?” (

Our shared suffering and our compassion represent the face of God incarnate in our midst, God coming to us as our shared life together.


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