Pope Francis, in a speech at the conclusion of a conference of bishops and young people from around the Mediterranean in the French city of Marseille, called on European governments to embrace migrants rather than perceiving them as invaders, reigniting a highly contentious political debate amid a surge in arrivals.
In his address, Pope Francis asserted, “Those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they seek refuge.” He emphasized that migration is a “current reality, spanning three continents around the Mediterranean, which necessitates thoughtful management, including a European response.”
The pontiff’s 35-minute speech received a standing ovation from the audience, but his stance on migration was likely to clash with the intentions of French President Emmanuel Macron and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, both of whom were in attendance and are planning stricter measures to regulate immigration.
The pope’s firm statements come at a time when the migration discourse has been fueled by large-scale arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa in the previous week.
On his arrival in Marseille, Pope Francis, speaking at a monument commemorating those lost at sea, insisted that “individuals left to the mercy of the waves and at risk of drowning must be rescued.” He expressed gratitude to aid organizations involved in rescuing endangered migrants, condemning any efforts to hinder their work as “acts of hostility.”
Later, tens of thousands of people are expected to watch Pope Francis as he travels through the streets of Marseille, followed by a mass gathering of nearly 60,000 people in the city’s renowned Velodrome stadium. Along the Avenue du Prado, where his “popemobile” tour will take place, up to 100,000 spectators are anticipated, and numerous roads are adorned with the Vatican’s white-and-yellow colors.
Francky Domingo, a Beninese leader of a group of undocumented migrants in Marseille, expressed hope that the pope’s visit would “restore some hope” and “alleviate political tensions.” Marseille, a Mediterranean port, is described as “cosmopolitan, multicultural, multireligious,” but it faces significant challenges such as drug trafficking that claims lives daily, housing problems, and a rising number of shooting incidents this year, with Macron pledging billions of euros for city infrastructure improvements to combat the downturn.
However, it’s worth noting that not everyone has embraced the Pope’s visit.