Horrible dramas continue to take place in the Mediterranean region. People flee their homes and drown during the dangerous crossing to Europe. Pope Francis has repeatedly pointed out the suffering of refugees.
This begins on the routes in Africa, for example when people are tortured and enslaved in reception camps in North Africa. According to the Pope, the drama of the refugees takes place before they leave. “The Mediterranean is a cemetery, but it’s not the biggest cemetery. The biggest cemetery is North Africa. It’s terrible. That’s why I’m going to Marseille.”
Bishops, representatives of different religions and, above all, many young people from around 30 countries meet in France’s second largest city. They all live in the Mediterranean region, they all face similar challenges – such as migration.
The port city of Marseille is synonymous with immigration; the majority of its approximately 870,000 residents have foreign roots. Muslims, Jews, Christians and even Buddhists live together in very small spaces. Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline is archbishop there. According to Aveline, the idea was that the Pope could meet with the spiritual leaders.
There has been an initiative in Marseille since 1990 called Marseille Espérance, i.e. “Marseille Hope”. Representatives of all major religions come together in this initiative. In the face of poverty, drug trafficking and brutal crime, they want to maintain dialogue. “Mediterranean. Mosaic of Hope” is also the motto of the multi-day conference in which the Pope will take part.
Environmental problems are also in focus
In addition to migration, the people of the Mediterranean region face many other challenges, such as environmental problems, says Aveline. The Mediterranean is already severely affected and will continue to be so in the future.
So far, such severe problems have not been known in the Mediterranean region. “The environmental issues are not just climatic issues. They are also about access to water, for example,” said Aveline.
“Tackling the challenge of migration together”
The problems should be addressed together. After meetings in Bari and Florence, this is the third conference as part of these so-called Mediterranean meetings. Community is important to the Pope, especially when it comes to migration.
During the Angelus prayer last Sunday, he emphasized that this was not an easy challenge. You see that in the news these days. But the challenge must be addressed together. “It is essential for the future of everyone and it will only be good if it is built on brotherhood, putting human dignity, specific people, especially those most in need, first,” said the 86-year-old Argentine.
Meeting with Macron
In Marseille, Francis will also meet with French President Emmanuel Macron. Its government is increasingly taking a tougher approach towards irregular migrants, and France’s border controls with Italy have been strengthened.
It is expected that the Pope will focus even more on the fate of refugees. He wants to commemorate the migrants who drowned in the sea at the monument to the victims and heroes of the sea in the harbor entrance. It is a clear signal to Europe.