1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Pope Francis, migration and the issue of ethics

September 22, 2023

The pope is visiting the French city of Marseille, where he is expected to deliver harsh comments on the living conditions of migrants in Europe.

Pope Francis (C) meets refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on December 5, 2021
Pope Francis has long put a special focus on the plight of refugees. He is expected to do so again when he visits MarseilleImage: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Every day, the Catholic nuns in Ventimiglia, Italy, tend to the local migrant community. Without that help, the migrants would face an even greater struggle to survive.

Ventimiglia sits on the Mediterranean Sea, on Italy's border with France. Around 150 to 200 people have to live in the open on the coast. Their goal is to get to France from here. But France guards the border carefully, and it usually takes several attempts to cross over in this mountainous region successfully. 

Pope Francis has put the fate of people at the center of his visit to the southern French city of Marseille, long seen as a cultural and religious melting pot with many residents from different countries and of different faiths. He seems to be intentionally signaling his disapproval of how Europe has been dealing with migration to the continent — above all, the rich Western European countries. 

Among the migrants in Ventimiglia are many young people from war-torn Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

Catholic nun providing food to refugees in Ventimiglia
Catholic nuns provide food to refugees in VentimigliaImage: Michel Champouret/DW

The Catholic aid organization Caritas distributes some bread to them every morning. In the evening, volunteers cook hot meals. The city's mayor, from the right-wing populist League party (Lega), has refused to provide state help for the refugees.

Church aid workers say smugglers from organized crime groups are active here, transporting refugees across the mountain passes. In September, Charles Ange Ginesy, the president of the French Alpes-Maritimes region, reported that the reception centers for minors who make it across the border from Italy were overcrowded. 

Pope Francis's visit to Marseille will include meeting French President Emmanuel Macron. Marseille is France's oldest city and has been a crossroads for trade and migration for thousands of years. Its location just 200 kilometers from Ventimiglia also makes it a waystation for migrants on their way from Italy. 

Migration is a challenge "that must be addressed together," Francis stated in a sermon the weekend before his trip. He said the challenge is "not easy," citing the latest media reports from the Italian island of Lampedusa in the southern Mediterranean Sea, where thousands of migrants have arrived from Africa in recent weeks. 

The migrants' pope 

Francis made migration one of his main themes early in his 10.5-year papal term. His first official trip as pontiff, in fact, was to Lampedusa four months after his election. The 2013 trip saw him visit migrants on the island. In photos from the visit, he appeared deeply moved.  

France: Fortress or Land of Liberté?

Even then, Francis denounced a widespread lack of concern for the fate of migrants and lamented a "globalization of indifference." He's since used that phrase repeatedly and has had harsh words for Europeans he says live in their bubble of "culture of prosperity" that has made them apathetic. 

The pope has said that European countries should tackle the issue of migration together. "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery," he said in his sermon. He added that migrants who land on European shores must be welcomed and helped.

Francis said on the Sunday before his visit to Marseille that migration is "essential for the future of all, which will only flourish if it is based on fraternity." Human dignity must come first, the pope said, for "real people, and especially the poorest."

This article was originally written in German.

Pope highlights role of religions in promoting peace