Say the right thing or keep silent

By Nikos Xydakis

When 12 souls, three mothers and nine babies, are lost at sea in front the eyes of their relatives, you can only feel chilled by a tragedy that cannot be expressed in words. You keep silent. You pray for their souls. You try to put yourself in the place of the mothers and the fathers. You try to block the sound of sobbing children from your head.

If you need to say something, if you are a public figure for example, then it should be something appropriate, a sentiment that measures up to the magnitude of the tragedy. You express your condolences and try to come up with some words of sympathy for those who are in mourning, in an effort to rescue some of the humanity of those who are out of such danger – of us, that is.

In his first official visit outside the Vatican last summer, Pope Francis offered prayers after a boat carrying African migrants sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. After more than 360 people were reported dead in the incident, the Pope sent out a message that spoke of the globalization of indifference.

“Immigrants dying at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death. That is how the headlines put it. When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago, and realized that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart,” Pope Francis told the faithful.

During the Christmas holidays, Greece’s Archbishop Ieronymos had lunch with orphan refugee children. Speaking to these victims of war – who, persecuted by death, had to travel across mountains, gorges and seas – Ieronymos offered some words of compassion: “Christ was born a refugee, a stranger,” he said.

No such profound remarks were expected of Greece’s Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis in the wake of the Farmakonisi sea tragedy. Varvitsiotis perhaps is not familiar with the Gospel. But he could at least have mumbled a simple statement of condolence saying that such tragic incidents go against the principles of Greek civilization and European standards, and that the government has already launched an official investigation into the incident.

Instead, the conservative minister took a swipe at the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights and at those who, he said, want the “petty exploitation” of the dead.

Varvitsiotis should have kept mum instead.