Pope in Marseille: Migration must be addressed with humanity, solidarity

In his speech at the Monument to the Heroes and Victims of the Sea in Marseille, Pope Francis underscores that tragedies and the epochal challenges of migration need to be addressed humanely across the Mediterranean region.

By Lisa Zengarini

In the second public event of his Apostolic Journey to Marseille, Pope Francis gathered on Friday evening with members of religious and local Church and lay organizations involved in the care of seafarers, migrants, and refugees for an interfaith moment of recollection at the French city’s memorial site commemorating sailors and migrants lost at sea.

Among those attending the gathering, held at a monument in front of the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, were members of the interreligious non-governmental organization Marseille Espérance, and delegations of Catholic Stella Maris, Caritas Gap-Briançon, and of the network Associations de secours en mer pour un temps de prière pour les migrants morts en mer (Sea rescue associations for the prayer for migrants who lost their lives at sea), as well as members of the diocesan pastoral service for migrants.

Migrants dying in the Mediterranean are not mere numbers

In his remarks, Pope Francis reiterated the urgent need to address the tragedies of migration, which have transformed the Mediterranean into a “cemetery”, with concrete actions, not words, but, most importantly, with humanity.

He underscored that immigrants who lose their lives at sea as they seek a better future are not mere numbers, but people with faces and names fleeing from conflicts, poverty and environmental disasters.

“Let us not get used to considering shipwrecks as news stories, and deaths at sea as numbers: no, they are names and surnames, they are faces and stories, they are broken lives and shattered dreams.”

Duty of humanity and solidarity

In this epochal migration crisis, the Pope said, while migrants find themselves at a crossroads between life and death, as recalled by the protagonist of the book “Hermanito” (“Little Brother”) at the end of his perilous journey from Guinea to Europe, European countries stand at a crossroads of civilization.

"On the one hand, there is fraternity, which makes the human community flourish with goodness; on the other, indifference, which bloodies the Mediterranean.”

He insisted that rescuing people in danger at sea is a duty both of humanity and civilization. “God will bless us, if on land and at sea we know how to take care of the weakest, if we can overcome the paralysis of fear and the disinterest that, with velvet gloves, condemns others to death,” the Pope said.

“We cannot be resigned to seeing human beings treated as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured in atrocious ways; we can no longer watch the drama of shipwrecks, caused by the cruel trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference. People who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity; it is a duty of civilization!”

Religions in the Mediterranean called to set an example

To address the crisis, Pope Francis continued, representatives of different religions, and specifically of the three Mediterranean Abrahamic monotheisms, which all teach hospitality and love for the stranger in the name of God, are called to set an example.

“We believers must be exemplary in mutual and fraternal welcome,” he stressed, decrying “the woodworm of extremism and the ideological plague of fundamentalism that corrodes the authentic life of communities.”

Marseille: a mosaic of hope

The Pope referred specifically to the complex multi-cultural and multi-religious reality of Marseille, faced today with increasing inter-communal and social tensions, saying that the French port city “stands at a crossroads: encounter or confrontation”.

In this regard, Pope Francis praised and encouraged the  work carried out  by the several organizations involved in assisting migrants and promoting peaceful coexistence between communities, and specifically the inter-faith NGO Marseille-Espérance.

“You are the Marseille of the future,” he said. “Strive ahead without discouragement, so that this city may be for France, Europe and the world a mosaic of hope.”

The Pope cited Jules Isaac, a local French Jewish historian known internationally for his tireless work to promote Jewish-Christian relations after World War II, as a “pioneer and witnesses of dialogue”.

Let us make a mosaic of peace together

Wrapping up his speech, Pope Francis therefore expressed his hope that Europe may address the current challenges posed by mass migration in the Mediterranean in a spirit of solidarity breaking down walls and building bridges, as invoked by David Sassoli, the late President of the European Parliament who passed away in 2022, at the Meeting of reflection and spirituality: ‘The Mediterranean, A Frontier of Peace’, organised in the city of Bari, in 2020 by the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI).

“Brothers, sisters, let us face these problems together; let us not cause hope to shipwreck; let us together make a mosaic of peace!”

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22 September 2023, 18:46