Migranti: la Life Support attesa al porto di Ravenna

Mediterranean Churches discuss migrant ministry in Marseille

Following Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Marseille, France, on the occasion of the Mediterranean Meetings in September 2023, the French Archdiocese convenes the “MED 24 on Migrations” to discuss coordinated pastoral efforts for migrants in the region.

By Delphine Allaire and Lisa Zengarini

More than six months after Pope Francis’ call from Marseille for the Mediterranean to recover its ancient vocation of being a laboratory of peace, and for more humane migration policies, some fifty Church-actors working in migrant ministry in the region have gathered in the French port city to discuss how to offer a better human and spiritual assistance to migrants trying to reach Europe, and strengthen their cooperation.

Running from 4-8 April. the "MED 24 on Migrations” was organized by the Mediterranean Relations Service and the Pastoral Care of Migrants of the Archdiocese of Marseille.

Networking together

During five days of discussions, participants hailing from the five shores of the Mediterranean, including Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Greece, Spain Italy, the Holy Land and France, shared their experiences, the many challenges they encounter in their work assisting migrants, and discussed prospects and networking together.

The Archbishop of Marseille, Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, attended the gathering and reiterated the urgent need to reflect and raise awareness on this hot-button issue, moving beyond ideology.

Moving beyond ideology

Speaking to Vatican News’ Delphine Allaire, Cardinal Aveline insisted this issue is an inescapable challenge of our time, and highlighted three crucial points, the first of which is reminding people that migration is part of our history. This, he noted, is particularly true for a cosmopolitan city like Marseille: “If we dug in our own history, we would discover that we all descend from Wandering Aramean,” he said.  

The second point the Archbishop of Marseille highlighted was listening to first-hand accounts of migrants and asylum seekers, rather than considering only statistics: “Listening to the story of someone else’s life is better than hearing instructions from the bishops,” he remarked.

Finally, he said,  we need “critical information” that is “how not to let ourselves be influenced by what we are told on this issue but to verify the information ourselves”.

More than numbers: listening to migrants' stories

The need to put a face on migrants and asylum seekers and to listen to their stories was also repeatedly emphasized by participants during the discussions.

Among them was Daniel Bourha, a young Catholic Cameroonian who arrived in Marseille in 2016 after a long and perilous two-year journey from his native conflict-torn country, passing through the Libyan detention camps and, then, the Italian island of Lampedusa, one of the main arrival points for migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe from North Africa. He told Vatican News that the only way to stop young Cameroonians from leaving their country would be to put an end to the exploitation of its natural resources by foreign powers, thus offering them more job opportunities in Cameroon.

From cradle of civilization to cemetery

Father Antoine Exelmans, is a Fidei Donum priest who has been working in Morocco since 2016, serving sub-Saharan migrants in Casablanca who follow the so-called 'western route' of unauthorized migration to Europe. He confirmed to Vatican News that what is missing in the current narrative are the tragic experiences of migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross the Mediterranean which has become a cemetery, as repeated endless times by Pope Francis.

Sister Antonietta Papa, who has been working with migrants in Lampedusa since September 2023, has personally witnessed this tragedy. “When we welcome the migrants on the island we see coffins passing by”, ” she said as she emotionally recalled seeing the 15-month-old baby of a migrant woman falling in the water and drowning on Good Friday.

Participants also discussed the Eastern Mediterranean migration route in the Western Balkans where in 2022 some 130,000 persons attempted to enter Europe through Turkey. Many are Muslims from Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and North Africa and the local Caritas organizations have even mobilized imams to offer them spiritual assistance, as explained in a testimony by Ariela Mitri, deputy director of Caritas Albania.

Migrants' contribution to society

On the other hand, several participants noted that the Church’s work for migrants has also contributed to rekindling the Christian faith in some local communities of hosting countries.

Dominican Brother Xavier Gomez OP, Director of the migration department of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CES) further recalled that migrants not only contribute to the economic development of their countries of origin but also to the economy of the hosting countries.  However, he warned, this doesn’t mean they should be treated like commodities to be exploited. This is why the Spanish Bishops have launched the Hospitalidad Atlántica (“Atlantic Hospitality”) project, a joint effort involving 26 dioceses in Spain and Africa to provide safe spaces for migrants in transit upon their arrival in Europe. An example of ecclesial networking that could serve as a model in other parts of the Mediterranean.

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08 April 2024, 17:15