Pope Francis on Saturday hammered home his message that European governments must do more to care for migrants crossing the Mediterranean, saying “those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they look for welcome”.
Closing a meeting of bishops and young people from around the Mediterranean in the French port city of Marseille, he added that migration is “a reality of our times, a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must be governed with wise foresight, including a European response”.
The pope’s remarks – given in front of President Emmanuel Macron, whose government plans tougher measures to control migration – follow his insistence on arrival in France Friday that “people who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued”.
The pope also appeared to weigh in on French domestic politics, targeting two of Macron’s projects in assisted dying and inscribing the right to abortion in the constitution.
Old people risk being “pushed aside, under the false pretences of a supposedly dignified and ‘sweet’ death that is more ‘salty’ than the waters of the sea,” Francis warned.
He also spoke of “unborn children, rejected in the name of a false right to progress, which is instead a retreat into the selfish needs of the individual”.
‘Give us back a little hope’
The Vélodrome stadium in France‘s second city will be packed with almost 60,000 people for the pope’s visit later on Saturday, while as many as 100,000 lined the Avenue du Prado for his “popemobile” tour ahead of the mass.
The Mediterranean port is a “cosmopolitan, multicultural, multireligious” hub but “faces huge difficulties, drug trafficking that costs human lives every day, the problem of housing”, Domingo added.
Around 40 people have been killed in shootings in Marseille this year, and President Emmanuel Macron has promised billions of euros to upgrade city infrastructure in a bid to stop the downward spiral.
But not everyone has welcomed the Pope’s visit.
Some politicians on the left have criticised Macron’s decision to attend Saturday’s mass as an infringement of state secularism.
Others on the right have attacked Francis for “interfering” in domestic politics.
The migration debate has been stoked by mass arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa last week.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin – who greeted the pope on his arrival – has vowed not to take in a single one.
‘Must be rescued’
Francis’ first stop in Marseille was the city’s landmark Notre Dame de la Garde church, where sailors have traditionally prayed for protection, and model ships given in thanks hang from the ceiling.
At a monument overlooking city rooftops and the glinting Mediterranean, the pontiff insisted that “people who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued”.
In unprepared remarks added at the end of his speech, the pope thanked aid groups rescuing migrants in danger at sea, condemning efforts to prevent their activity as “gestures of hate”.
François Thomas, president one such group, SOS Mediterranée, was grateful for the papal backing.
“These hindrances to our mission, this criticism is very violent, and to have a message from the pope himself, here in Marseille… in view of the sea, it’s very powerful,” he told AFP after Francis’ speech.
The rescuers have been running missions in the Mediterranean since 2015. But their ship the Ocean Viking has sometimes been held in port by authorities or denied permission to dock after pulling people from the water.
Pope Francis’ message at the closing session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” may have had less resonance given Catholicism’s long decline in France.
Fewer than a third of people still say they are Catholic, and only a fraction of those regularly attend mass.
The country’s religious heritage nevertheless still has enormous weight, with Macron showing off progress in restoring fire-ravaged Paris cathedral Notre Dame to King Charles III this week.
He has also announced tax breaks for contributions to a fund to renovate church buildings in villages too small to take on the repairs themselves.
Source: France 24