MARSEILLE, France, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Saturday condemned “belligerent nationalisms” and called for a pan-European response to migration to prevent the Mediterranean, where thousands of people have drowned, from becoming a “tomb of dignity”.
The Holy Father spoke out in favor of welcoming migrants, in a long speech with which he concluded a Church conference on Mediterranean issues in Marseille, a French port that for centuries has been a crossroads of cultures and religions.
“There is a cry of pain that is the loudest of all, and that is turning the mare nostrum into mare mortuum, the Mediterranean from the cradle of civilization to the tomb of dignity: It is the muffled cry of the migrant brothers and sisters” he said, using Latin terms that mean “our sea” and “sea of death.”
The Supreme Pontiff was received at the port where the conference center is located by President Emmanuel Macron, with whom he was scheduled to hold a private meeting later on Saturday before returning to Rome.
Francis began the day by visiting a center for the needy in the Marseille neighborhood of Saint Mauront, one of the poorest in France, managed by the order of nuns founded by Saint Mother Teresa.
Later at the conference, he called for “a large number of legal and regular entries” of immigrants, emphasizing the reception of those fleeing war, hunger and poverty, rather than the “preservation of one’s own well-being.”
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 178,500 migrants have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean this year, while some 2,500 have died or gone missing.
The governments of several European countries, such as Italy, Hungary and Poland, have governments with an openly anti-immigration position.
The Pope asked people to listen to “the cries of pain that rise from North Africa and the Middle East.”
“How much need we have for this in the current situation, when antiquated and belligerent nationalisms want to make the dream of the community of nations disappear!” he said. He didn’t name any country.
Although Francis has often said that immigrants should be spread among the 27 EU countries, his general openness toward immigrants, including once calling their exclusion “scandalous, disgusting and sinful,” has irritated conservative politicians. .
Their 27-hour trip has been dominated by immigration issues. On Friday he said that migrants at risk of drowning at sea “must be rescued” because doing so is “a duty of humanity” and that those who prevent rescues commit “a gesture of hate.” (Reporting by Philip Pullella; Edited in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)