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In Marseille, the Pope denounces “the fanaticism of indifference” towards immigrants to Europe

In Marseille, the Pope denounces “the fanaticism of indifference” towards immigrants to Europe

It is a message on the waterline of the European Union and its immigration policies, a position consistent with what has been his since he sat in Pedro’s chair a decade ago, a warning to xenophobes, but also those he accuses of being indifferent. Pope Francis landed this Friday in Marseille, a mixed-race and cosmopolitan city, for a two-day visit with a very specific objective: to draw attention to the drama in the Mediterranean and stir consciences.

“This splendid sea has become an enormous cemetery in which too many brothers and sisters are deprived even of the right to a grave, in which the only thing that remains buried is human dignity,” Francis said before a stele in memory of the sailors missing in the Mediterranean in front of the basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde. “We cannot continue to witness the tragedies of shipwrecks caused by hateful traffic and by the fanaticism of indifference: indifference becomes fanatical, and we must help people who risk drowning when they are abandoned among the waves.”

The Pope was thinking of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where almost 12,000 immigrants have arrived in recent days. He was thinking about those left behind in the attempt: so far in 2023, 2,356 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. He was thinking of European politicians. Those who stir up fear of the foreigner. Those who, from governments like the Italian one, have put obstacles in the way of receiving drifting boats. Surely also those who, from moderate and pragmatic positions, close to the central positions in the EU such as that of the Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, ask to combine “humanity” and “firmness” in immigration policy.

Francis’ two-day visit aims to draw attention to the migratory drama in the Mediterranean.Pavel Golovkin (AP)

The frame summarizes the idea of ​​the visit. Francisco had insisted before embarking that he was not traveling to France. He was going to Marseille, an eccentric city in France, a former colonial port, destination of successive waves of migration, a Mediterranean capital that has fallen into disrepair and is hit by poverty and crime: more than 40 homicides related to drug trafficking this year, a record. And at the same time, a cultural and social incubator far from the constricted and haughty Paris.

The Argentine Pope likes to move on the margins. He feels more comfortable in Africa, of course in Latin America, or in Asia, as his recent trip to Mongolia demonstrates, than in old Europe and its fears or challenges, as suggested by his ambivalence towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine and reproaches for his alleged complacency with the aggressor. But it turns out that Marseille, which had not received a Pope for half a millennium, belongs to these margins. And it is here because the city has hosted the third edition of the Mediterranean Meetings since September 17, a forum that brings together 120 young people and bishops from both shores.

“Immigration is one of the guiding lines of this pontificate: for more than ten years Francis has not stopped calling for solidarity with migrants who die in the desert or at sea, or on the exodus routes,” he summarizes. by telephone the Lyon priest Christian Delorme, a figure of French Catholic progressivism and co-author, among other essays, of The Republic, the Church, Islam: a French revolution. ”He calls for compassion: it is unsustainable to think of so many young lives lost. It’s a scandal. And even more so taking into account that our Western European countries are increasingly establishing themselves as fortresses and consider these migrants as undesirable, when in reality they are survivors.”

The Pontiff upon his arrival in France, where he was received by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. YARA NARDI (REUTERS)

Francisco will meet this Saturday with Macron, who has tried frenchify the Marseille event to the fullest, and will also attend a mass mass at the Velodrome, the stadium of Olympique de Marseille. His presence has sparked criticism. What does the president of the Republic, the homeland of secularism, do at a religious event? Macron, following the doctrine of General De Gaulle when he went to mass, will represent the Republic, but, since the Republic does not take communion, neither will he. And, as far as he knows, he is agnostic. In the past he has attended Jewish and Muslim ceremonies.

A sector of this extreme right has been agitating for days. “It’s good to think about these people,” debater and presidential candidate Eric Zemmour said on the BFMTV network. “These people” are the immigrants. “But what does the Pope want? Do you want Christian Europe and the cradle of Christianity to become an Islamic land? “I would like you to explain this.”

Zemmour is not a Christian, but his opinions reflect the hostility towards the Pontiff of a part of French Catholicism, the most right-wing. But the tough-on-immigration message is not limited to the extreme right. The moderate right and the center also harden their discourse, convinced that if they give an image of laxity or impotence in the face of immigration, they will feed the ultras. Among those who received Francis at the Marseille airport was the Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, who this week declared that “France will not welcome immigrants from Lampedusa.”

“Beyond the extreme right, there is a lot of misunderstanding with Francis among many French Catholics, because they think that his generosity is utopian,” analyzes Christian Delorme. And he adds: “French political leaders will feel uncomfortable, starting with the President of the Republic.”

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