Stéphane Burgatt with AFP // Photo credit: Andreas SOLARO / AFP 19:30 p.m., September 22, 2023, modified at 19:33 p.m., September 22, 2023

On the first day of his visit to Marseille, Pope Francis denounced the "odious trafficking and fanaticism of indifference" in the face of the fate of migrants who "must be rescued in the Mediterranean", insisting that it is a "duty of civilization". The pontiff also called for cohabitation between religions.

Pope Francis on Friday denounced the "odious trafficking and fanaticism of indifference" in the face of the fate of migrants, who "must be rescued" in the Mediterranean, on the first day of his visit to Marseille. "We can no longer witness the tragedies of shipwrecks caused by odious trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference. People who are at risk of drowning, when left on the waves, must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity, it is a duty of civilization," insisted the pope, who has regularly denounced the fate of migrants since his election ten years ago.

"We are at a crossroads of civilizations"

"We are at a crossroads: on the one hand fraternity, (...) on the other, indifference, which bloodied the Mediterranean. We are at a crossroads of civilizations," said the head of the Catholic Church, denouncing "the paralysis of fear". He was speaking at an interfaith ceremony of contemplation in front of the memorial of sailors and migrants lost at sea, at the foot of the "Good Mother", the emblematic basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, which dominates the second city of France. "Believers, we must (...) be exemplary in mutual and fraternal acceptance," Pope Francis pleaded, surrounded by representatives of other religions with whom he observed a time of silence.

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"Faced with such a tragedy, words are useless, but deeds," explained the pontiff, regretting once again that the Mediterranean has become "an immense cemetery" where "human dignity is buried": "But before that, we need humanity," he added. Welcoming the pope, Cardinal Archbishop of Marseille, Jean-Marc Aveline, denounced for his part "the crime" of preventing NGOs and other rescuers from rescuing these migrants at sea. After him, the Pope also praised the work of humanitarians.

Francis' trip to Marseille comes as a new wave of arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa has prompted the European Union to adopt a contingency plan to help Rome manage migration flows from North Africa. But the France "will not welcome migrants" from Lampedusa, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Tuesday.

A cohabitation between religions

In his speech in Marseille, the Pope also pleaded for the coexistence between the different religions, one of the themes of the "Mediterranean Meetings", third of the name after Bari (2020) and Florence (2022), which he came to close and which have been bringing together for a week in Marseille bishops and young people from around the Mediterranean.

"Often relations between religious groups are not easy, because of the virus of extremism and the ideological scourge of fundamentalism that eat away at the real life of communities," he warned, instead taking as an example a local body, "Marseille Espérance", which brings together representatives of various religions and "promotes fraternity and peaceful coexistence".