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Vatican announces Pope Francis' Marseille visit schedule, trip to highlight Mediterranean migant crisis

Pope Francis offers Mass in Bari, Italy on Feb. 23, 2020. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Jul 29, 2023 / 08:55 am (CNA).

Less than three weeks after he returns from Mongolia in early September, Pope Francis will travel internationally again with a day trip to Marseille, France, September 22-23. It will be his third trip over a six-week period, as he will be in Lisbon, Portugal, August 2-6 for World Youth Day.

The pope will make the trip to France to participate in the Mediterranean Encounter, the “Rencontres Mediterraneennes” — a gathering of some 120 young people of various creeds with bishops from 30 countries. The encounter is a “cultural festival” drawing together associations and groups committed to dialogue and ecological issues. The day after the pope’s visit, and the concluding day of the Encounter, is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

The pope has referred to the Mediterranean as Europe’s “largest cemetery” since growing numbers of people trying to migrate from north Africa and the Middle East to Europe continue to lose their lives in the waters.

The Vatican press office announced July 29 the pope’s schedule for the France trip, with his departure from Rome on Friday, September 22, at 2:35 p.m. local time. On his return from Africa in January, the pope had already said he would be visiting Marseille.

He will be welcomed to France by the president, Emanuel Macron, at 4:15 p.m. and an hour later, will lead a time of prayer to Our Lady with the local clergy at the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde. The pope will give a greeting, and then give another address less than an hour later to religious leaders gathered at a memorial to sailors and migrants lost at sea. The memorial was dedicated in 1923 and declared a historical monument in 2009.

The next day, the pope will have a private meeting at the residence of the Marseille archbishop, Cardinal Jean-Marx Aveline, with people who are suffering economic difficulty and disadvantage. Then at 10 a.m., he will join in the Mediterranean Encounter.

The pope will meet with President Macron at 11:30 p.m. and later that afternoon, at 4:15 p.m., will celebrate a public Mass at Velodrome Stadium, giving the homily. He leaves for Rome at 7:15 p.m., after a departure ceremony at the Marseille International Airport.

Challenges of the Mediterranean

The aim of the September 17-24 Mediterranean Encounter is to “build and share the same hope” among the “mosaic of peoples, cultures, and religions that make up the Mediterranean.” The Encounter will include opportunities for people from a large forum of movements and associations committed to responding to the challenges of the Mediterranean to gather and share information, resources, and fellowship. There will also be a “solidarity banquet,” bringing together people in difficult situations with those who support them, for a shared Mediterranean meal.

The Mediterranean Encounter has its origins in a 2020 initiative of the Italian bishops, who in Bari, Italy, joined together with representatives of the Church and other religious and society leaders to consider the challenges of the Mediterranean. The pope attended that 2020 event

The first quarter of 2023 was the deadliest since 2017 in the Central Mediterranean, with at least 441 people dying, though that’s considered an undercount. The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) calls it a “persisting humanitarian crisis” that is “intolerable.” More than 20,000 people have died on Central Mediterranean migration routes since 2014.

On June 14 of this year, off the coast of Greece, a tragedy occurred that was the worst in several years: The Adriana, a fishing boat carrying between 400 and 750 people, capsized. As the boat was massively overcrowded, the number of dead is unknown but the boat was reported to be in distress since the morning before the day it capsized. Approximately 100 people were rescued and just over 80 bodies were recovered.

The pope has urged a European-wide response to the plight of people trying to cross the Mediterranean, noting that certain countries, such as Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, and Spain, bear the brunt of the burden. He has also repeatedly referred to the camps for migrating people in Libya as “lagers” — that is, concentration camps.

The UN sees climate change and migration issues as intimately related. The IOM reports that “climate change is reshaping migration patterns everywhere,” noting that in 2022, disasters have caused 305,000 new displacements in the Middle East and North Africa, a 30% increase compared to the previous year. 

Earlier this month, Pope Francis marked the 10-year anniversary of his first trip outside Italy as pope: to Lampedusa, an island between Sicily and Tunisia and Libya, and the center of many migrant disasters. He sent a letter to the local bishop, echoing the appeal he made on his 2013 trip there:

“God still asks us: ‘Adam, where are you? Where is your brother?’ Do we want to persevere in error, to presume to put ourselves in the place of the Creator, to dominate in order to protect our own interests, to break the constitutive harmony between Him and us? We must change our attitude; the brother who knocks at the door is worthy of love, hospitality, and every care. He is a brother who, like me, has been placed on earth to enjoy what exists there and to share it in communion.”

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