“The city of Marseille is very ancient. Founded by Greek seafarer who came from Asia Minor, myth traces it back to a love affair between a migrant sailor and a native princess.”
Even Pope Francis couldn’t resist the temptation to cite the legend of the founding of ancient Massalia, a story that begins with the welcome offered by Gyptis, daughter of the Segobrigian king Nannus, to Protis, who led a fleet coming from Phocaea.
This was the beginning of the Pope’s speech at the Palais du Pharo on the final day of the Mediterranean Encounters, whose previous editions were held in Bari and Florence.
But while the beginning of the pontiff’s speech – delivered in front of an audience of 900 and in the presence of European Commission Vice-President Schinas (in charge of the work on a new pact on migration and asylum), French President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin – was full of references to the cosmopolitanism of the Phocaean city and the countless scenes of Mediterranean history recounted by the historian Braudel, he steered his speech towards a manifestly political message. He directed it at those who “raise their voices even though they’re doing well,” while we should be taking care of those who are lowest, seeing their faces and their stories as individuals, not mere numbers.
Speaking about the wide-open door to the sea that is Marseille, “capital of the integration of peoples,” Francis mentioned the various Mediterranean ports that are instead being closed off, to the cry of “invasion” and “emergency.”
“Those who risk their lives at sea are not invading. They’re seeking welcome, they’re seeking life,” Bergoglio said firmly, adding that the migratory phenomenon was “not something of momentary urgency, always good for spreading alarmist propaganda, but a process that must be governed with wise foresight: with a European responsibility.”
While admitting the difficulties inherent in welcoming migrants, the Pope reiterated the need to protect, support and integrate them to prevent a “shipwreck of civilization.” He reiterated this concept on Friday, during the meditation he led in front of the stele dedicated to those who lost their lives at sea in the church of Notre-Dame de la Garde, together with, among others, representatives of the NGOs that carry out rescues.
Recalling another symbol of Marseille, the lighthouse of the palace of the same name where 70 bishops and hundreds of young people from the five shores of the Mediterranean – North Africa, the Near East, the Black Sea-Aegean, the Balkans and Latin Europe – gathered this week, Francis also addressed the students, particularly the 5,000 foreigners on Marseille’s campuses, expressing the hope that universities and schools will break down barriers and play the role of laboratories of dialogue for a future of peace, free of prejudice.
The pontiff’s message was also received with warmth and enthusiasm at the Vélodrome stadium, where the last leg of the pilgrimage took place and which currently hosts the Rugby World Cup.
Bergoglio arrived around 4 p.m. at the “temple” of the local soccer team, the much-loved Olympique Marseille, to celebrate Mass after a drive along the crowded and festive Avenue du Prado. Five centuries had passed since the last time a Pope came to visit, marking a historic occasion for locals and tourists alike. As explained by Cardinal Aveline, the choice of the stadium was not accidental, since – as the archbishop of Marseille himself told the pontiff at the end of the religious service – “coming here is as if you had gone to the home of every Marseillais.” It was a sort of “baptism” for the Pope himself into the world of soccer fans, officiated by the supporters of Olympique, particularly the South Winners group headed by Rachid Zeroual, who paid homage to him from the stadium’s Curva Sud with a giant effigy.
In Francis’s homily, he took care to include an appeal to consciences against insensitivity to the discarding of human life, inviting to the experience of a “jolt of awe” before one’s neighbor. As he bade farewell to a stadium cheering him on in Italian, the pontiff did not forget to address a thought to all the city’s workers, mentioning the story of Jacques Loew, the first worker priest who served in the port of Marseille.
No one applauded when Bergoglio acknowledged President Macron, Premier Borne and Payan, the young Socialist mayor who was one of the main proponents of the papal visit. It will be the latter, first and foremost, who will have to take up the commitment to “care” for migrants that Francis called for. These days, dozens of unaccompanied minors camped in the center of Marseille are demanding the right to housing and education. Lampedusa is far away, but all too close at the same time.
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