Pope to defend migrants in Marseille trip

Calls for compassion for migrants suffering in North Africa and those attempting to reach Europe or die trying will be at the heart of Pope Francis’s visit to Marseille this week.The Marseille event, “Mediterranean Meetings”, will look at themes including economic inequality, migration and climate change.French President Emmanuel Macron will be at the final mass, a decision that sparked controversy among left-wing politicians in the strictly secular country.

Some also accuse Macron of having postponed the presentation of a bill on end-of-life care, a debate likely to include discussion over extending euthanasia laws — a red flag to the Catholic Church — so as not to interfere with the visit.

The Jesuit pope has a cordial relationship with Macron, who was himself Jesuit-educated, and the leaders have already seen each other three times.

“There is a real familiarity, a real complicity between Macron and the pope,” Vatican journalist Bernard Lecomte told AFP.

Crowd-loving Francis, the first pope to visit France since Benedict XVI in 2008, will ride in his “popemobile” up the city’s Avenue du Prado after the mass.

Throughout his visit, he will be accompanied by the archbishop of Marseille, Jean-Marc Aveline, a close friend who was made cardinal in 2022.

Around 5,000 police and other security forces will be mobilised for the trip, one welcomed by some residents — though others have questioned whether Francis understands the challenges large numbers of migrants pose to the city.

“I don’t entirely agree with the pope when he says ‘we must welcome all migrants’,” said Yvette Devallois, 69, who is active in her local parish.

“We welcome migrants, but still, we can’t take in all the misery in the world.”