Pope laments closing ports to migrants, fueling fears with false alarm

MARSEILLE, France (CNS) -- The real evil plaguing communities and countries is not the growing number of problems, but the collapse of care, Pope Francis said at a major meeting discussing the challenges and opportunities of the dozens of countries circling the Mediterranean Sea.

"Today the sea of human coexistence is polluted by instability, which even assails beautiful Marseille," he said Sept. 23, on the second and final day of his trip to the ancient port city. "Where there is instability there is crime. Where there is lack of work together with material, educational, cultural and religious poverty, the path is opened up for gangs and illicit trafficking."

"The commitment of institutions alone is not enough; we need a jolt of conscience to say 'no' to lawlessness and 'yes' to solidarity," he told his audience, which included French President Emmanuel Macron, Marseille Mayor Benoît Payan, and most of the French bishops as well as dozens of bishops, young people of all faiths and civil association leaders from about 30 Mediterranean nations. He was met with a standing ovation when he came onto the stage to join other church leaders.

The pope delivered his lengthy address to some 900 people at the Pharo Palace congress hall for the final session of the "Mediterranean Meetings," which were launched in Bari, Italy, in 2020 to discuss social-economic issues, ecology, immigration and conflicts affecting the region and to look for concrete ways to promote the common good.

"How greatly we need this at the present juncture, when antiquated and belligerent nationalisms want to make the dream of the community of nations fade!" he said, warning that, "with weapons we make war, not peace, and with greed for power we always return to the past, rather than building the future."

The pope criticized the closing of Mediterranean ports to migrants, noting the measures were often preceded by the repetition of "two words" that fueled "people's fears: 'invasion' and 'emergency.'"

"Yet those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they look for welcome," he said. "As for the emergency, the phenomenon of migration is not so much a short-term urgency, always good for fueling alarmist propaganda, but a reality of our times."

Offering a response that respects each person's human dignity is "a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must be governed with wise foresight, including a European response capable of coping with the objective difficulties" involved in welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating "unexpected persons," he said.

"In the face of the terrible scourge of the exploitation of human beings, the solution is not to reject but to ensure, according to the possibilities of each, an ample number of legal and regular entrances," Pope Francis said. "This would be sustainable with an equitable welcome on the part of the European continent, in the context of cooperation with the countries of origin."

What needs to change in everyone's communities, he said, is treating newcomers as "brothers and sisters whose stories we know, not as troublesome problems; it lies in welcoming them, not hiding them; in integrating them, not evicting them; in giving them dignity."

"Indeed, the real social evil is not so much the increase of problems, but the decrease of care," the pope said, listing those who easily fall prey to neglect or "disposal," like young people, exploited workers, "frightened families," isolated elderly, "unborn children, rejected in the name of a false right to progress," migrants and those fleeing violence, injustice and persecution.

"Here I am thinking of the many Christians who are frequently forced to leave their homelands or dwell in them without recognition of their rights, and not enjoying full citizenship," he said. "Please, let us commit ourselves so that all who are part of society can become citizens with full rights."

The pope encouraged Catholics to live a "scandalously evangelical style of life" as agents of charity, bearing witness to Christ and lifting the burdens of others "in the name of the Gospel of mercy."

Because of the need for greater cooperation, the pope suggested the creation of a Mediterranean Bishops' Conference that could offer greater possibilities for regional dialogue and representation as well as an interconnected pastoral plan that is specific on the theme of ports and migration "so that those dioceses that are most exposed can provide the best spiritual and human assistance to our sisters and brothers who arrive there in great need."

He reminded people that the church marks the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 24, and he asked people not to become indifferent but to listen to and be moved by the stories of "our unfortunate brothers and sisters who have the right both to emigrate and not to emigrate."

The church must always be a place where people who are struggling can find hope, he said.

"Merely crying 'enough!' is to close our eyes; attempting now to 'save ourselves' will turn into tragedy tomorrow," he said. "Future generations will thank us if we were able to create the conditions for a necessary integration."

Before going to the palace, Pope Francis went to the home of the Missionaries of Charity in one of Marseille's poorest neighborhoods to meet with people experiencing economic difficulty.

After his speech at the palace, he had a private meeting with President Macron at the palace. The president, his wife, Brigitte, and Payan had greeted the pope outside the huge 19th-century building overlooking the city's large port and old fortresses. The pope greeted a group of children who gave him gifts in front of a small olive tree.

Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille, the diocese that led the organization of this year's "Mediterranean Meetings," thanked the pope for his presence and for encouraging the many "artisans of peace" who were in the audience that day.