A decade after Pope Francis made a historic visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa to stand in solidarity with migrants, he is now uniting with Catholic bishops from Mediterranean countries in France this weekend. Their collective plea is aimed at addressing the increasing flow of refugees departing from Africa, but the question remains: will European leaders heed their call?
Pope Francis’s overnight visit to the French port city of Marseille was planned months in advance, but it coincides with renewed attention on Europe’s migrant crisis. Last week, nearly 7,000 migrants arrived on Lampedusa within a day, temporarily outnumbering the local population. This has prompted discussions and expressions of solidarity from European capitals, including suggestions of a naval blockade to deter departures. However, the Pope has consistently criticized such measures, highlighting that returning migrants to Libya only lands them in what he has described as modern-day concentration camps.
For Pope Francis, the harrowing scenes of men, women, and children crowded into a refugee center on Lampedusa emphasize the need to address migration collectively. He emphasized that the future should be built on fraternity, prioritizing human dignity and the most vulnerable.
Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has made the plight of migrants a central concern. It all began with his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, where he decried the “globalization of indifference” toward those risking their lives to escape poverty, conflict, and climate disasters in search of a better life. He has since undertaken various initiatives to draw attention to the Gospel’s call to welcome strangers, including bringing Syrian Muslims aboard his plane after visiting a refugee camp in Greece in 2016. His message revolves around welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants, recognizing the challenges faced by governments in accommodating newcomers effectively.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, the Vatican’s top migration expert and a refugee himself, stressed the collective responsibility Europe has in addressing the Mediterranean migration crisis.
In Marseille, a diverse and multicultural city on the Mediterranean coast, the Pope will be accompanied by approximately 60 bishops from North Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Southern Europe, along with young people from these regions. Marseille’s unique history of hosting migrants, including Italians, Spaniards, Armenians, and people from former French colonies in North and West Africa, makes it a fitting location for this gathering.
One of the highlights of the Pope’s visit will be an interfaith prayer at a monument in Marseille dedicated to sailors who perished at sea, honoring the thousands who have drowned in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach Europe. This gathering will bring together leaders of various faith communities, emphasizing a united call for tolerance toward migrants.
However, whether the call for unity and compassion toward migrants will resonate with those in power remains uncertain. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose government has adopted a stricter stance on migration and security issues, is expected to attend the Pope’s Mass but may not necessarily align with Francis’s views. France’s secular tradition and complex relationship with religion pose additional challenges to the Pope’s message.
While Pope Francis wields moral authority and has spoken out on migration issues, it remains to be seen whether his interventions will translate into political action. Nonetheless, his advocacy has drawn attention to the importance of respecting international human rights principles in addressing the global migration crisis.
As the Pope and Catholic bishops strive to foster unity and compassion, there is hope among migrants, including young men from South Sudan, that their pleas will not go unheard. Despite their arduous journey, they hold onto the belief that someone will listen, offering a glimmer of hope amid the challenges of migration.