Pope Francis in Marseille to highlight the migrant crisis

by Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY/MARSEILLE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Friday that rescuing migrants at risk of drowning was a “duty of humanity” and that failure to do so was an “act of hatred”.

François, who is on a two-day visit to Marseille, spoke during a moment of contemplation in front of the memorial to sailors and migrants missing at sea, near the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde basilica.

“We cannot resign ourselves to seeing human beings treated as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured in atrocious ways,” the pope said. “We can no longer witness the tragedies of shipwrecks caused by heinous trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference.”

“People who risk drowning, when they are abandoned on the waves, must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity, it is a duty of civilization!”, added the sovereign pontiff.

Some NGOs have criticized governments for preventing some of their boats from leaving Mediterranean ports for reasons which, according to them, are unjustifiable.

The Archbishop of Marseille, Jean-Marc Aveline, said that “political institutions” were committing a “crime as serious” as those who engage in migrant smuggling when they prevent rescuers from intervening.

“Often they prevent you from leaving because, they say, something is missing on the ship. (…) These are acts of hatred against their brothers,” Francis said a few moments later. “Thanks for all you’ve done.”

Neither the pope nor the archbishop of Marseille named a government during the event, which recalled Francis’ 2013 visit to Lampedusa, three months after his election, where he condemned the “globalization of indifference” after having paid tribute to migrants who died at sea.

This papal trip on the occasion of the Mediterranean Meetings comes as nearly 10,000 migrants arrived last week on the island of Lampedusa, in southern Italy.

The President of the Italian Council, Giorgia Meloni, estimated that the migration crisis did not only concern the countries welcoming arrivals, but all the member states of the European Union.

Francis has often called for a distribution of migrants between the 27 EU countries and described their exclusion as “scandalous, disgusting and sinful”, sparking criticism from certain political figures, particularly in France.

“He behaves like a politician, or like the head of an NGO, and not like a pope,” Gilles Pennelle, director general of the National Rally, for whom the migration issue was a political problem, told Reuters.

The visit was also commented on by the French left, in favor of a broad reception of migrants.

“If Emmanuel Macron can open his ears to the message delivered by Pope Francis on migrants, that would be good news but he is not taking the path at all,” said La France insoumise MP Clémentine Autain on LCI.

The 86-year-old pontiff, who uses a wheelchair, was welcomed on his arrival in Marseille by Jean-Marc Aveline and the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne.

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to meet the head of the Catholic church twice during his stay in Marseille and attend a mass celebrated Saturday afternoon at the Vélodrome stadium, in the presence of some 60,000 faithful.

(With the contribution of Layli Foroudi, Michel Rose in Paris, and Alvise Armellini in Rome, written by Camille Raynaud and Elizabeth Pineau, edited by Blandine Hénault)

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