MARSEILLES – Pope Francis on Saturday condemned “belligerent nationalisms” and called for a pan-European response to migration to stop the Mediterranean, where thousands have drowned, from becoming “the graveyard of dignity”.
The Pope spoke in favour of welcoming migrants in a long speech that concluded a church conference on Mediterranean issues in Marseille, a French port that for centuries has been a crossroads of cultures and religions.
“There is a cry of pain that resonates most of all, and it is turning the Mediterranean, the ‘mare nostrum’, from the cradle of civilisation into the ‘mare mortuum’, the graveyard of dignity: it is the stifled cry of migrant brothers and sisters,” he said, using Latin terms meaning “our sea” and “sea of death”.
Pope Francis was welcomed at the windy portside where the conference centre is located at by President Emmanuel Macron, with whom he was due to have a private meeting later on Saturday before returning to Rome.
The Pope began the day by visiting a centre for the needy in Marseilles’ Saint-Mauront district, one of France’s poorest. It is run by the order of nuns founded by Mother Teresa.
Later at the conference, he called for “an ample number of legal and regular entrances” of migrants, with emphasis on accepting those fleeing war, hunger and poverty, rather than on “preservation of one’s own well-being”.
The United Nations estimates that about 178,500 migrants have come to Europe via the Mediterranean so far in 2023, while about 2,500 died or went missing.
Governments in several European countries, including Italy, Hungary and Poland, are led by outspoken opponents of immigration.
Pope Francis called on people to “hear the cries of pain” rising from North Africa and the Middle East.
“How greatly we need this at the present juncture, when antiquated and belligerent nationalisms want to make the dream of the community of nations fade,” he said. He did not name any countries.
While Pope Francis has said often that migrants should be shared among the 27 European Union countries, his overall openness towards migrants, including once calling their exclusion “scandalous, disgusting and sinful”, has riled conservative politicians.
His 27-hour trip has been dominated by migration issues.
On Friday, he said migrants who risk drowning at sea “must be rescued” because doing so was “a duty of humanity” and that those who impede rescues commit “a gesture of hate”. REUTERS
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