Every day, Catholic nuns in Ventimiglia, Italy, care for the local migrant community. Without that help, migrants face an even greater struggle to survive.
Ventimiglia is located on the Mediterranean Sea, on the Italian border with France. About 150 to 200 people must live in the open space on the beach. Their goal is to go to France from here. But France closely guards the border, and it usually takes several attempts to successfully cross this mountainous region.
Pope Francis put the fate of the people at the center of his visit to the southern French city of Marseille, which has long been seen as a cultural and religious melting pot of many residents from different countries and different faiths. It seems he intended to signal his disapproval of how Europe is dealing with migration on the continent – above all, the wealthy countries of Western Europe.
Among the migrants in Ventimiglia are many young people from war-torn Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.
The Catholic aid organization Caritas distributes bread to them every morning. In the evening, volunteers cook a hot meal. The city’s mayor, from the right-wing populist League party (Lega), refused to provide state aid for refugees.
Church aides say smugglers from organized crime groups are active here, taking refugees across mountain passes. In September, Charles Ange Ginesy, the president of the French Alpes-Maritimes region, reported that reception centers for minors crossing the border from Italy were overcrowded.
Pope Francis’ visit to Marseille will include a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. Marseille is the oldest city in France and has been a crossroads of trade and migration for thousands of years. Its location just 200 kilometers from Ventimiglia also makes it a gateway for migrants from Italy.
Migration is a challenge “that must be discussed together,” Francis said in a weekend sermon ahead of his trip. He said the challenge was “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 pope of migrants
Francis has made migration one of his main themes early in his 10.5-year term as pope. 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, she appeared very moved.
However, Francis criticized the widespread lack of concern for the fate of migrants and lamented a “globalization of indifference.” He has since used that phrase repeatedly and had harsh words for Europeans who he says live in their bubble of “prosperity culture” that makes them careless.
The pope said that European countries must work together to deal with the migration issue. “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” he said in his sermon. He added that the migrants who landed on the shores of Europe should be welcomed and helped.
Francis said on 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.