Pope Francis in Marseille to defend the cause of migrants


The issue of migrants and the tragedy of those among them who die in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe will be at the heart of Pope Francis' visit Friday and Saturday to Marseille, France's second city.

Migration, at the heart of Italian news with the arrival in recent days on the island of Lampedusa of thousands of people from the North African coast, is "not an easy challenge", said the Pope on Sunday after the Angelus prayer at the Vatican.

“It must be faced together, because it is crucial for the future of us all, which will only be beneficial if it is built on fraternity, putting human dignity and people at the forefront, especially those who are most in need. the need,” he said.

This visit raised, before even having started, a controversy over the presence of President Emmanuel Macron at the mass that the 86-year-old pope is to celebrate in front of 57.000 people on Saturday at the Stade Vélodrome, the sports venue of this emblematic cosmopolitan port of migration.

While France is governed by the principle of secularism, the left-wing opposition has accused Mr. Macron of “trampling” on the religious neutrality of the state.

“It is my place to go. I will not go as a Catholic, I will go as President of the Republic which is in fact secular,” he defended himself on Friday.

Some deputies also accused Mr. Macron, who will see the Pope face-to-face before mass, of having postponed the presentation of a bill on the end of life, which appears as a red rag for the Catholic Church, so as not to interfere with the visit.

This visit of the pope to France will be a first since that of his predecessor Benedict XVI in 2008.

Pope Francis certainly visited Strasbourg in 2014, but it was during a visit to the European Parliament. The 86-year-old pope, by his own admission more interested in the peripheries than in large countries, insisted that his visit would not have the value of a state visit: "I will go to Marseille, but not to France", he said in August, at the risk of offending French Catholics, whose conservative fringe accuses him of doing too much on migrants.

The pope seized the opportunity of meetings between bishops and young people from all around the Mediterranean, organized by the diocese of Marseille from September 18 to 24 around themes such as economic inequalities, migration and climate change.

Mediterranean become cemetery

"The Mediterranean is a cemetery. But it's not the biggest: the biggest cemetery is in the North of Africa. It's terrible. That's why I'm going to Marseille," he explained. . According to the UN, more than 2.300 migrants have already died since January in the Mediterranean, the most dangerous migration route in the world.

The Pope will arrive Friday afternoon in Marseille and will immediately go to the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, a symbolic monument dominating the city, for a prayer with the clergy which will be followed by a moment of contemplation with representatives of other religions, in front of the Memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants missing at sea.

On Saturday, he will participate in the morning closing session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” at the Palais du Pharo, where he will speak with Emmanuel Macron. The afternoon will be the highlight of his visit, with public mass at the Vélodrome stadium, after a ride in a "Papamobile" from the main artery of Avenue du Prado, so that the crowd can greet him.

Throughout his visit, the Pope will have at his side the Archbishop of Marseille Jean-Marc Aveline, a close friend whom he named cardinal in 2022.

A certain number of believers and associations are hoping for a message on better care of migrants and regularization of undocumented workers, a provision envisaged in an immigration bill.

Some Catholics also place limits on welcoming migrants. This is the case of Yvette Devallois, 69 years old, very active in her parish: “I do not completely agree with the Pope when he says “We must welcome all migrants”. We welcome migrants, but hey, we can't accommodate all the misery in the world."

Marseille has some of the poorest neighborhoods in Europe, many of which are plagued by drug trafficking. Violence linked to drug banditry has left around forty dead there this year, according to an AFP count.

The police will also be on edge during these two days, during which 5.000 police officers and gendarmes and a thousand private security agents will be mobilized, even if according to the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin "no threat "There is nothing special to report."

Since his election in 2013, Jorge Bergoglio has made 42 trips abroad. His increasingly fragile health now forces him to use a wheelchair and he admitted at the beginning of September that for him traveling is "no longer as easy as at the beginning".

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock / photofilippo66 (March 26 2011) 

In the international category >

Recent news >