Pope decries ‘gestures of hatred’ toward migrants

Pope Francis (center) leaves Friday after a moment of reflection with religious leaders next to the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille, France. During a two-day visit, Francis will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration.
(AP/Pavel Golovkin)
Pope Francis (center) leaves Friday after a moment of reflection with religious leaders next to the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille, France. During a two-day visit, Francis will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP/Pavel Golovkin)

MARSEILLE, France -- Pope Francis blasted the "fanaticism of indifference" that greets migrants seeking a better life in Europe as he arrived Friday in the Mediterranean port of Marseille amid a new influx of would-be refugees from Africa that has sparked backlash from some of Europe's increasingly anti-migrant leaders.

Opening a brief overnight visit to the French port, Francis presided over a silent moment of prayer at a memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea. He was surrounded by leaders of Marseille's varied faith groups and representatives of migrant rescue organizations that have increasingly come under fire from Europe's populist politicians.

The visit, scheduled months ago, came as Europe's migrant dilemma is again in the headlines. Last week, the Italian island of Lampedusa was overwhelmed by nearly 7,000 migrants who arrived in a day after paying smugglers in Tunisia for passage, more than the island's resident population.

History's first Latin American pope has made the plight of migrants a priority of his 10-year pontificate, traveling to Lampedusa in his first trip as pope to honor migrants who drowned. In the years since, he has celebrated Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border, met with Myanmar's Rohingya refugees and brought home 12 Syrian Muslims on his plane after visiting a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.

On Friday, Francis gathered with Marseille priests at the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica and then led an interfaith prayer at its nearby memorial, which stands on a rocky outcropping overlooking Marseille and the Mediterranean. There, Francis said far too many people had never made it to shore.

"And so this beautiful sea has become a huge cemetery, where many brothers and sisters are deprived even of the right to a grave," he said.

Adding to his prepared remarks, he extended a special thank-you to the humanitarian groups that rescue migrants, blasting efforts to block their rescues as "gestures of hatred" -- an apparent reference to Italy's frequent impounding of rescue boats on technical violations.

Francis is in Marseille to preside over the closing session today of a gathering of Mediterranean-area Catholic bishops. About 350,000 Catholic faithful were expected in the city over the weekend, including 100,000 to line Marseille's major avenue ahead of a Mass today at the Velodrome stadium that French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to attend.

On Friday, he blasted the "fanaticism of indifference" that greets migrants, a recognition that in the 10 years he has been pope, Europe has only hardened its line on migration with some countries emphasizing border fences, repatriations and the possibility of a naval blockade to keep migrants out.

In that same decade, according to the International Organization of Migration, an estimated 28,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, while others have been subject to horrendous conditions in Libyan detention centers where abuse is rife, after being turned back at sea.

"We cannot be resigned to seeing human beings treated as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured in atrocious ways," Francis said in clear reference to the Libyan camps. "We can no longer watch the drama of shipwrecks caused by the cruel trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference."

He insisted that people who are at risk of drowning "when abandoned to the waves" must be rescued.

"It's a duty of humanity; it's a duty of civilization!" he said.

The Rev. José-Maria Cantal-Rivas, a priest in Algiers, Algeria, said it was a "very moving" moment to hear Francis' strong words at the monument, especially since he hears about young Algerians who leave their families behind.

"Families come to tell me: 'Our children have left for Spain. Is there any way of knowing if they arrived alive, if they're in prison or if they're in the morgue? Here are their names, the dates when they left,'" he said.

After the new arrivals at Lampedusa last week, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni resurrected calls for a naval blockade of Tunisia and announced new centers in Italy to hold those who don't qualify for asylum until they can be sent home.

  photo  Pope Francis leaves the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica at the end of a Marian prayer with the diocesan clergy, in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis arrives to take part in a moment of reflection with religious leaders next to the Memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea, in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
 
 
  photo  A model boat hanging from the ceiling of the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica is seen as Pope Francis delivers his speech during a Marian prayer with the diocesan clergy, in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis attends a moment of reflection with religious leaders next to the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis prays in front of the Memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea during a moment of reflection with religious leaders, in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (Alessandro Di Meo/ANSA via AP, Pool)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis leaves after a moment of reflection with religious leaders next to the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis passes in front of the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica as he reaches the Memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea for a moment of reflection with religious leaders, in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis, centre, leaves after a moment of reflection with religious leaders next to the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Francis, during a two-day visit, will join Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region on discussions that will largely focus on migration. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)