© Reuters. Pope Francis is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a meeting at Palais du Pharo, on the occasion of the Mediterranean Meetings (MED 2023), in Marseille, France, September 23, 2023. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
By Philip Pullella
MARSEILLES, France (Reuters) – 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”.
Francis spoke out 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 civilization 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”.
Francis was welcomed at the windy portside where the conference centre is located 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, run by the order of nuns founded by Saint 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 wellbeing”.
According to UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, about 178,500 migrants have come to Europe via the Mediterranean this year, 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.
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 Francis has said often that migrants should be shared among the 27 EU 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”.