A journey for the Mediterranean. It is with this message that Pope Francis is preparing to take to the streets of Marseille on September 22 and 23, 2023. He will be traveling to the southern French city to participate in the third edition of the “Mediterranean Meetings” (“Rencontres Méditerranéennes”), with bishops and young people from the region. This trip is yet another stop in the “pilgrimage” that Pope Francis has been taking around the Mediterranean Sea since the early days of his pontificate.
Marseille has a port thought of as “a gateway to the West,” explained Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille, in an interview. With this in mind, city leaders were able to convince the Argentine Pontiff to set foot in France, despite his intention to privilege smaller nations. In fact he has highlighted this is not an apostolic visit to France.
The Pope who has reached out to migrants across the Mediterranean
As is often the case on his travels, the Pope will meet with migrants in Marseille as well. In the course of his many trips around this region, Francis has also outlined a “theology of the Mediterranean.” This field is inspired by the geography, history, and cultures of the Mediterranean Basin, inviting people to live out a life of hospitality, listening, and mercy rather than closure.
The Pope has embodied this vision of Mediterranean unity, which has sometimes been criticized and considered naive in Europe, right from his first trip as the head of the Catholic Church. On July 8, 2013, he had only been installed on the Throne of Peter for a few weeks when he decided to travel to the small Italian island of Lampedusa to “grieve for the death” of those who try to immigrate to Europe and lose their lives at sea.
Facing the sea, after a long moment of contemplation, he threw a wreath of flowers in memory of the thousands of people who have drowned in the Mediterranean, a sea which, with the immigration crisis, has become a “great cemetery.” From 2014 until today, more than 27,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean, according to figures put forward by the International Organization for Migration.
A face for the immigration crisis
After Lampedusa, encounters with migrants and refugees have almost become a norm on Pope Francis’ trips around the Mediterranean. Whether in Malta (2022), Greece (2021 and 2016), Cyprus (2021), or Morocco (2019), each time the Pope has been keen to meet displaced people in order to see the faces of the people who are the actual men, women, and children swept up in the anonymous immigration crisis.
On Friday, in Marseille, the Pope will once again renew his prayers from the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde and then in the gardens of the Palais du Pharo. Near the Memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea, he will listen to the testimony of a young migrant and greet people involved in helping refugees.