Story by Frank Hofmann, Christoph Strack •9h
The Pope is heading to Marseille in southern France. He’s expected to deliver harsh comments on the living conditions of migrants.
Pope Francis has long put a special focus on the plight of refugees. He is expected to do so again when he visits Marseille.© Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images
Every day, the Catholic nuns in Ventimiglia, Italy, tend to the local migrant community. Without that help, the migrants would be out of luck.
Ventimiglia sits on the Mediterranean Sea, on Italy’s border with France. 150 to 200 people have to live in the open on the coast. Their goal is to get to France, illegally, from here. But France guards the border carefully, and it usually takes several attempts to successfully cross over in this mountainous region.
Pope Francis has put the fate of people at the center of his visit to Marseille in southern France (23-25.09.23). He seems to be intentionally signaling his disapproval of how Europe has been dealing with migration to the continent – above all, the rich Western European countries.
Among the migrants in Ventimiglia are many young people from war-torn Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.
Catholic nuns provide food to refugees in Ventimiglia© Michel Champouret/DW
Every morning the Catholic aid organization Caritas distributes a few loaves of bread to them. In the evening, volunteers cook hot meals. The city’s mayor, from the right-wing populist League party (Lega), is refusing state help for the refugees.
Church aid workers say smugglers from organized crime groups are active here, transporting refugees across the mountain passes. In September, Charles Ange Ginésy, the president of the French Alpes-Maritimes department, reported that the reception centers for minors who make it across the border from Italy were overcrowded.
Pope Francis’s visit to Marseille will include a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. Marseille is France’s oldest city and has been a crossroads for trade and migration for thousands of years. Its location just 200 kilometers from Ventimiglia also makes it a waystation for migrants on their way from Italy.
Migration is a challenge “that must be addressed together,” Francis stated in a sermon the weekend before his trip. He said the challenge is “not easy,” citing the latest media reports from the Italian island of Lampedusain the southern Mediterranean Sea, where thousands of migrants have arrived from Africa in recent weeks.
The Migrants’ Pope
Francis made migration one of his main themes early in his ten-and-a-half-year papal term. His first official trip as Pope, in fact, was to Lampedusa, four months after his election. The 2013 trip saw him visit migrants on the island. In photos from the visit, he appeared deeply moved.
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Even then, Francis denounced a widespread lack of concern for the fate of migrants and lamented a “globalization of indifference.” He’s since used that phrase repeatedly. And he has harsh words for Europeans, who live in their bubble in a “culture of prosperity” that makes them apathetic.
European countries, the Pope has said, should tackle the problem of migration together: “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” he said in his sermon. Migrants who land on European shores, he added, need to be welcomed and helped.
Migration, Francis said on the Sunday before his visit to Marseille, is “essential for the future of all, which will only flourish if it is based on fraternity.” Human dignity must come first, the Pope said, for “real people, and especially the poorest.” The Catholic Church is doing its part to help on the French-Italian border: many of the volunteers at the food distribution in Ventimiglia come from the region’s Catholic parishes.
This article was originally written in German.
Author: Frank Hofmann, Christoph Strack