Pope Francis urges European countries to welcome migrants

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Pope Francis challenged French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders to open their ports to people fleeing hardship and poverty, insisting Saturday that the continent does not face a migratory “emergency” but rather a long-term reality. that governments must treat with humanity.

For a second straight day in the French port city of Marseille, Francis took aim at European countries that have used “alarmist propaganda” to justify closing their doors to migrants, and tried to shame them into responding with the charity. He called for migrants to have legal pathways to citizenship and for the Mediterranean Sea that so many cross to reach Europe to be a beacon of hope, not a graveyard of despair.

The Mediterranean, Francis told Macron and a gathering of regional bishops, “cries for justice, with its shores which, on one side, breathe wealth, consumerism and waste, while on the other reign poverty and instability.

Pope Francis is greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at the final session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” at the Palais du Pharo, in Marseille, France, Saturday, September 23, 2023.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

The pope’s visit to the southern French city, which attracted around 150,000 supporters on Saturday, comes as Italy’s far-right government responded to the arrival of a new wave of migrants by threatening to organize a naval blockade of Tunisia and to intensify its efforts. repatriations. The French government, for its part, has stepped up patrols on its southern border to prevent migrants from passing through Italy.

After the bishops’ meeting ended, Macron and Francis held a half-hour private meeting. They discussed migration issues and a series of other subjects, the French presidency said, adding that the two leaders share a “common desire” to provide humane solutions to the situation.

France is a “receiving country” for migrants – particularly asylum seekers – and supports European solidarity policies, notably by financing and combating human trafficking, the French presidency said. The Vatican has not provided any readout of the meeting.

Macron’s centrist government has taken a harder line on migration and security issues after being criticized by French conservatives and the far right. With European Parliament elections set for next year, Macron is pushing for the EU to strengthen its external borders and be more effective in expelling people who are refused entry.

Macron welcomed Francis on a windswept promenade overlooking Marseille’s old port and helped him enter the Palais du Pharo for the meeting of Mediterranean bishops. With his wife by his side, the French leader listened as a young Italian volunteer working in Greece and the bishop of Tirana, Albania, who fled to Italy during Albania’s communist regime, spoke about the welcome they received abroad.

“May we let ourselves be moved by the stories of so many of our unfortunate brothers and sisters who have the right both to emigrate and not to emigrate, and not to close ourselves in indifference,” Francis said . “Faced with the terrible scourge of the exploitation of human beings, the solution is not to refuse but to ensure, according to everyone’s possibilities, a sufficient number of legal and regular entries. »

Francis’ two-day trip was planned months ago, but comes as mass migration to Europe is once again making headlines. Nearly 7,000 migrants who boarded smugglers’ boats in Tunisia landed on the small Italian island of Lampedusa in one day last week, briefly outnumbering the resident population.

Nonetheless, Francis said talk of a migration “emergency” only fueled “alarmist propaganda” and stoked people’s fears.

“Those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they seek welcome, life,” he said. “As for the emergency, the migratory phenomenon is not so much a short-term emergency, always conducive to fueling alarmist propaganda, but a reality of our time. »

Besides Macron, the pope’s audience on Saturday included European Commission Vice President Margarítis Schinás, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde and French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who said France does not would not accept new migrants from Lampedusa.

The French president and first lady Brigitte Macron then attended Francis’ final mass at the Marseille velodrome, which attracted around 50,000 people and where a giant banner of the pope was raised in the stands. The Vatican, citing local organizers, said an additional 100,000 people lined Avenue du Prado in central Marseille to applaud the passage of its popemobile.

The first Latin American pope in history has made the plight of migrants a priority of his ten-year pontificate. For his first trip as pope, he went to Lampedusa to pay tribute to migrants who drowned while trying to cross the sea.

In the years that followed, he celebrated Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border, met with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, and, as visible proof of his commitment, brought home 12 Syrian Muslims on his plane after visited a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.

Migrants and their advocates living in Marseille, which has a long tradition of multicultural hospitality, said Francis’ call for charity and paths to citizenship gave them hope that at least someone in Europe was sensitive to their plight.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Francky Domingo, member of a Marseille association representing migrants seeking official identity documents. “We really want the Pope to be our spokesperson with politicians because European migration policy is very, very repressive for us, the migrants. »

François Thomas, head of maritime rescue organization SOS Méditerranée, said he hoped Francis’ words would be heard in European capitals.

“We don’t let people drown in the Mediterranean. This is not possible,” Thomas said at the Marseille memorial to migrants missing at sea.

In his remarks, Francis also reiterated his opposition to euthanasia, which he has long denounced as a symptom of a “throwaway culture” that views the elderly and infirm as expendable. Citing euthanasia as a “social evil,” he criticized proponents of assisted suicide as providing “false pretenses of a so-called dignified and ‘gentle’ death that is more ‘salty’ than the waters of the sea.” »

The subject is hot in France, where Macron is expected to unveil a bill in the coming weeks that would legalize end-of-life options in France. French media reported that he delayed presenting the measure until after the pope’s visit to avoid interference with the sensitive subject.

No details of the government’s proposal have been revealed, but several options are being studied, including the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia for adult patients with incurable illnesses, under strict conditions guaranteeing their free consent. and enlightened.

The French presidency said Francis and Macron discussed the issue during their bilateral meeting, but did not go into details.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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