People have a duty to save migrants in danger of drowning, pope says
Praying for those who have died in the Mediterranean Sea and praising those who help rescue and welcome migrants attempting the treacherous crossing, Pope Francis insisted compassion, encounter and fraternity are the only possible responses to migration.
Pope Francis pauses before a memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost in the Mediterranean Sea in Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
MARSEILLE, France (CNS) -- At a moving ceremony at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Pope Francis led a moment of silence for the countless lives lost in its blue but treacherous waters.
And he warned the world it was now at a crossroads: people must choose either to take the path of compassion, encounter and fraternity or veer off toward a track of indifference and conflict.
Calling it "a duty of civilization," he said that "people who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity."
Dozens of guests, including the mayor of Marseille, Benoit Payan, who sat at the pope's side, representatives of the city's religious communities, church officials and organizations involved in the rescue, care and assistance of migrants joined Pope Francis for the moment of reflection.
The pope prayed and led a moment of silence with the others before going to a monument dedicated to those who have perished at sea. The monument, topped with a cross, also features a heart and an anchor. As the pope and religious leaders prayed, the sun was slowly setting toward the water below.
"Let us not get used to considering shipwrecks as news stories" where the people who died are faceless and nameless numbers, he said. They are brothers and sisters who "drowned in fear, along with the hopes they carried in their hearts."
"We need deeds not words," he said, and then led those gathered in a moment of silence in memory of those who died.
"Let us be moved by their tragedies," he said.
At this time in history, he said, following the path of fraternity will allow the human community to flourish, while the road of indifference "bloodies the Mediterranean."
"We cannot be resigned to seeing human beings treated as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured in atrocious ways," he said, blaming the countless shipwrecks on "cruel trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference."
The pope said religious leaders must show people the way and be exemplary in their offer of "mutual and fraternal welcome," shunning the "woodworm of extremism and the ideological plague of fundamentalism that corrodes the authentic life of communities."
He urged the people of Marseille, marked by religious pluralism, to choose well what path it will take, whether that of encounter or confrontation.
He praised those gathered with him who are dedicated to rescuing and assisting migrants at sea and in danger. He said he was well aware of efforts that try to block rescuers, and he called such actions "gestures of hatred against one's brother," calling for "balance." Some governments have blocked non-governmental organizations from carrying out rescues because they claim they encourage people to attempt illegal crossings.
"Let us not cause hope to shipwreck; let us together make a mosaic of hope," he said, before listening to several prayer intentions read aloud by those representing different facets dedicated to the care of sailors and migrants.
Earlier, the pope joined bishops, clergy, seminarians and consecrated men and women for a Marian prayer service in the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Gard situated on top of the hill overlooking the sea and the memorial.
The pope encouraged Catholics to be like Mary, "the Bonne Mère" depicted in the basilica's statues, with her tender and loving gaze on Jesus, who, in turn, compassionately looks upon all of humanity.
Jesus looks at people, not to judge, but to lift them up, especially those who are "lowly" or lost and to help bring them back to the fold, he said.
"May people wounded by life find a safe harbor in your gaze, encouragement in your embrace and a caress in your hands," he said.
"Do not detract from the warmth of God's paternal and maternal gaze," he said, urging priests to "always, always loosen the chains of sin through grace and free people from those obstacles, regrets, grudges, and fears against which they cannot prevail alone."