On the heights of Marseille, the sea stretches as far as the eye can see. The memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea is there, at the foot of Notre-Dame de la Garde. The stele is topped with a large Camargue cross. Against the light, the islands of the famous Château d’If can be seen.
It is there, in this striking landscape, that the Pope came to launch, Friday September 22, on the first day of his trip to Marseille, a powerful appeal, in front of this Mediterranean Sea bathed in sun in which migrants are still drowning every day .
“Too many people, fleeing conflicts, poverty and environmental disasters, find in the waves of the Mediterranean the definitive rejection of their quest for a better future,” lamented François, whose white coat was battered by the Mistral. .
“We are at a crossroads,” he said: on one side, fraternity, on the other, indifference, which is bloodying the Mediterranean.” He hammered: “Or the culture of humanity and fraternity, or the culture of indifference – every man for himself.”
In the midst of Marseille religious leaders of all religions and denominations, the Pope forcefully denounced both the “odious trafficking” and the “fanaticism of indifference” against those who try to arrive in Europe. “People who risk drowning, when they are abandoned on the waves, must be rescued,” he thundered, after observing a moment of silent contemplation, visibly moved.
In this speech, the pope found accents used at the very beginning of his pontificate. As if he had wanted, in front of this memorial, to renew the appeal launched in Lampedusa, in the summer of 2013. On the small island of Sicily, the newly elected pope had castigated the world’s indifference towards migrants . But this cry, renewed twice in another Greek refugee camp, in Lesvos, in 2016 and in 2021, has never really been heard.
“He is the only head of state of this stature”
“It is a duty of humanity, it is a duty of civilization! » A clear message to the authorities of countries which give up saving migrant boats adrift, or prevent the action of associations like SOS Méditerranée, whose representatives were in the front row. “He is the only head of state of this stature to plead in this way,” said the deputy general director of this secular organization, Fabienne Lassale. He constantly calls for fraternity while in Europe, barriers are constantly being erected. »
“It gives me pleasure to see here those who go to sea to save migrants. They are so often prevented from leaving, these are gestures of hatred against the brother,” added François, referring to the administrative requirements sometimes imposed on rescue boats by the Italian government in order to force them to stay in port.
During his speech, did the pope set his eyes on Véronique Dembélé, originally from Mali, and herself arrived in France in 2018, who was listening attentively? “I hope that he will continue to challenge the French authorities so that they welcome migrants with dignity,” she explained, seeing in the pope a “bearer of hope”.
Meeting or confrontation
In a cannonball-shaped speech, Francis wanted to confront Europe with its historical responsibilities. He called on the countries of the Old Continent to no longer stick only to words, but to take “deeds”, to come to the aid of men and women “considered as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured”. in an atrocious manner.” Marseille, and beyond that the whole of Europe, now finds itself at a crossroads, since it has the choice between “meeting” and “confrontation”.
In front of François, around a hundred people took their places, all involved in welcoming migrants. And for whom the Pope’s speech particularly resonated this Friday evening. “Migrants confront us with a personal decision, that of letting ourselves be moved as the Gospel constantly invites us to do,” explained Philippe Collet, deacon of the diocese of Nice in charge of pastoral care for migrants.
“The Pope presents us with a civilizational choice,” analyzed Valérie Régnier, the president of the community of Sant’Egidio France. “How do we react to the plight of migrants who knock on our door? It is a fact. Welcoming is a spiritual choice. »