Italian of the Week

The island carpenter with the Pope’s blessing

The island carpenter with the Pope's blessing
One of Franco Tuccio's crosses was blessed by Pope Francis this week. Screenshot: AgenziaTMNews/YouTube
When carpenter Franco Tuccio saw boat migrants arriving at his home on the island of Lampedusa, he decided to use his craft to draw attention to their suffering. He speaks to The Local about his work being blessed by the Pope and the impact it is having across Italy.

Who is Franco Tuccio?

Franco Tuccio is a carpenter from the island of Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost point.

Why is he in the news?

This week Pope Francis blessed a cross carved by Tuccio, made from the remnants of migrant boats washed up on the shores of Lampedusa.

Nestled between Tunisia and Italy, the island is the arrival point of thousands of people trafficked from North Africa on rickety boats. Lampedusa has seen an uptick in arrivals in recent weeks, many fleeing from fragile or war-torn states such as Syria.

READ MORE: Italy rescues 4,000 boat migrants in 48 hours

Pope Francis Lampedusa cross by Osservatore Romano AFP

Pope Francis blessed the cross made by Franco Tuccio this week. Photo: Osservatore Romano/AFP

Why did Tuccio decide to make the cross?

The cross that arrived at the Vatican is the latest in a series which Tuccio started in 2009, he told The Local.

“The cross was born as a symbolic protest in support of the migrants,” he said. “I wanted everyone to know about the problems and the suffering of these people, to bring the message to the outside world.”

Tuccio saw the cross as a “rebirth” for the migrants who have lost their lives trying to reach Italy, and a way of giving them dignity.

More than 400 people died in two shipwrecks close to Lampedusa in October, while an estimated 20,000 people have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean in the past two decades.

What impact have the crosses had?

Pope Francis clasped one in his hands during his visit to Lampedusa in July, his first trip outside the Italian capital after being made pontiff, when he celebrated mass and cast a wreath out to sea.

READ MORE: Pope holds mass for perished migrants

The cross blessed by the Pope this week has embarked on a nationwide tour, before ending at a church in Milan frequented by migrants.

“There have been so many requests from associations that the cross’ journey might not finish!” said Tuccio.

The carpenter described the tour as “a beautiful idea” and said that while his creation is a Christian cross, people from all religions are invited to pray in front of it.

“Religions are different, but in the end the suffering affects us all,” he said.

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