A week after the massive disembarkation of nearly 10,000 migrants in Lampedusa, the 26-hour visit that Pope Francis will begin on Friday in Marseille risks not going unnoticed. Not only had the Pope announced in August that he was coming “to Marseille, but not to France” – a way considered at the least cavalier in Paris of declaring that he did not wish to make an official visit there -, but Then it’s no secret that we come to talk first and foremost about immigration, a subject that could not be more controversial in this year of European elections.
Francis will arrive Friday in a city that has long been crumbling under integration problems and where score-settling between rival gangs and drug kingpins have left around forty dead since the start of the year.
Officially, the Pope is going to Marseille to participate in the Mediterranean Meetings organized by the diocese between bishops and young people from around the Mediterranean. However, just like his first trip to Lampedusa as soon as he was elected in 2013, this trip could not be more political. The Pope makes no secret of the fact that welcoming migrants has become a recurring theme of his pontificate. “The Mediterranean is a cemetery. But it is not the largest: the largest cemetery is in northern Africa. It’s terrible. This is why I am going to Marseille,” he declared bluntly. A message that echoes the one he delivered this year on World Migrant and Refugee Day: “Migrating should always be a free choice. »
The Pope in difficult terrain
Would this impromptu visit primarily aim to lecture France as is believed in certain circles? One thing is certain, Francis will arrive on Friday in a country whose Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, affirmed this week that he “will not welcome migrants who come from Lampedusa”.
To demonstrate his determination, upon his arrival, the pope will go to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the basilica which overlooks the Phocaean city, to pray in front of the stele dedicated to sailors and migrants “lost at sea”. In addition to the high mass which will be held on Saturday at the stadium-velodrome in front of tens of thousands of faithful, he will meet migrants who have illegally crossed the Alps to France via Briançon.
Before his departure, the pope (who himself is “the son of immigrants”) admitted that it was “not an easy challenge”. But, he said, “it must be faced together, because it is crucial for the future of us all, which will only be beneficial if it is built on fraternity, putting human dignity and people, above all, at the forefront. those who are most in need.” In an interview with the weekly Pointhis right-hand man in matters of migration, the Toronto Jesuit Michael Czerny, who will be on the trip, did not hesitate to directly associate the fate of migrants with “a modern crucifixion”.
Words which are unlikely to achieve unanimous support in France. “There is irregular immigration in Europe, in France and in Italy that we must combat, and it is not by welcoming more people that we are going to dry up a flow which obviously affects our integration capacities,” he said. declared Gérald Darmanin. As soon as the migrants reached Italian shores, both France and Germany suspended the Schengen agreements and reestablished their border controls.
In saying these words, the Minister of the Interior certainly had in mind the poll published the previous week in Le Figaro according to which 7 out of 10 French people want a strengthening of repression against illegal immigration. On the menu: the registration of foreigners threatened with expulsion in the wanted persons file (82%), the obligation for asylum seekers to make their request for reception in their country of origin or a third country (73 %) and the possibility of holding a referendum on immigration (75%).
This opinion is widely shared by all representatives of the French right and even the center. The Pope “does not understand what we are facing”, declared on BFM-TV the head of the list in the European elections of the far-right Reconquest party, Marion Maréchal. The one who has never hidden her Catholic convictions said she “disagreed” with Pope Francis. “I find that Pope Francis has no place in politics and that he does too much,” she said.
Is François shunning France?
We can also wonder if Pope Francis is not voluntarily ignoring the eldest daughter of the Church by refusing for ten years all the invitations addressed to him to make an official visit. Since his election in 2013, the pope has only come to France once. And again, it was to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In fact, he did not even visit the cathedral. Quite the opposite of the very Francophile Benedict XVI, who came to Paris in 2008 to address the world of culture in the sumptuous Bernardins College. Or even John Paul II, who had set foot on French soil at least five times. Which did not prevent him from asking bluntly, in 1980: “France, eldest daughter of the Church, are you faithful to the promises of your baptism? »
We know that Emmanuel Macron has tried on several occasions to overcome this papal indifference, notably by promising, in 2018 before the Conference of Bishops of France, to “repair the link” between the Catholic Church and the State. “We vaguely share the feeling that the link between Church and State has been damaged, and that it is important to you as well as to me to repair it,” he explained to the bishops. In 2021, the Élysée had hoped for a trip to All Saints’ Day, then in 2023 for the 150e anniversary of the birth of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Each time in vain!
Perhaps Emmanuel Macron lacks the Mediterranean good nature of the Archbishop of Marseille, Jean-Marc Aveline. It was this 64-year-old theologian of pied-noir origin who was able to convince the pope to come to Marseille. Director for a time of the Catholic Institute of the Mediterranean – which, like Charles de Foucauld and the monks of Tibhirine, preaches the meeting between Catholics and Muslims -, Aveline was able to win the ear of the Pope, whom he meet regularly. Which does not prevent some of his detractors from describing him, in a portrait drawn up of him by the Catholic daily The crosslike “sympathetic right-thinking, which adjusts opportunely to all situations”.
Controversy among lay people
State visit or not, Emmanuel Macron, whose beloved city Marseille is, will attend with his wife Brigitte the high mass that the pope will deliver at the stadium-velodrome. What the former secularist Jean-Luc Mélenchon did not fail to reproach him for. “No religious ceremony for an elected official in France,” the leader of La France insoumise wrote on religion “.
Mélenchon and Roussel, however, know very well that, even if no president has attended a papal mass since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, there is nothing exceptional about a president attending a religious service in the part of his duties, whether on the occasion of funerals or the breaking of the fast among Muslims, for example. Especially since the president made it clear that he would only attend mass without participating in the Eucharist.
Everyone will have understood that, five centuries after the last visit of a pope to the Phocaean city, the debate was no longer really there.