During his visit in France, Pope Francis met with President Emmanuel Macron in Marseille during his recent visit. The meeting took place at the Palais du Pharo, a 19th-century palace with a picturesque view of Marseille’s historic port. Together, they participated in the concluding session of the Mediterranean Meetings, a weeklong gathering attended by bishops and various representatives. Subsequently, they held a private discussion, marking their fourth one-on-one encounter since President Macron’s election in 2017.
Rev. Vito Impellizzeri, a professor at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Sicily who was also present at the gathering, highlighted Pope Francis’s desire to reshape perceptions of the Mediterranean. He emphasized that the Mediterranean should not merely be viewed as a place of conflict and entombment but as a realm for mutual understanding and encounters.
During his visit, Pope Francis met with members of SOS Méditérannée, an aid organization dedicated to rescuing shipwrecked migrants. The organization presented the Pope with a life vest used for rescuing babies. Sophie Beau, a co-founder of the group, decried the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean, emphasizing that political will could have prevented it.
Addressing the issue of migration, Pope Francis stressed the importance of European governments cooperating more effectively, establishing legal pathways for entry, and enhancing integration. He regarded migration as a contemporary reality, noting that many developing nations plagued by instability, conflict, and desertification are seeking support from more affluent countries in an interconnected world characterized by widening disparities.
The Vélodrome stadium saw hundreds of devoted attendees holding large banners representing the Pope and Notre-Dame de la Garde, a basilica overlooking the city. In Marseille, soccer devotion is akin to a religion, and President Macron, despite not being a native of the city, is also a supporter.
Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, the archbishop of Marseille, expressed the sentiment that by visiting Marseille, Pope Francis had entered the homes of its residents. He shared that the Pope had a private meeting with individuals experiencing economic hardship at a charitable institution in Marseille.
Marseille, France’s second-largest city with around 870,000 residents, grapples with challenges such as pockets of extreme poverty, strained social services, and drug-related violence. Nevertheless, it is also one of France’s oldest and most diverse cities, characterized by a predominantly working-class population comprising various ethnic and religious communities shaped by waves of European and African immigration.
During their meeting, President Macron and Pope Francis engaged in a wide-ranging discussion, focusing on international issues like the environment, the conflict in Ukraine, and the ongoing dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite sharing an interest in reforming their respective institutions, the Pope and the President diverge on certain issues. Macron’s government has adopted a tougher stance on immigration to gain support from the right-wing on an upcoming immigration bill. Additionally, the French government is expected to unveil legislation on assisted dying, a policy at odds with the Roman Catholic Church’s position. In his address, Pope Francis criticized the notion of a dignified and peaceful death under false pretenses.
The last papal visit to Marseille occurred in 1533 when Pope Clement VII officiated the marriage of his niece, Catherine de Medici, to the future King Henry II of France. Since then, the influence and power of Roman Catholicism in France have significantly declined, even though it remains the country’s predominant religion, representing approximately 29 percent of the population. Presently, official statistics indicate that half of French adults between the ages of 18 and 59 claim no religious affiliation. The concept of laïcité, which upholds strict religious neutrality by the state in a nondiscriminatory society, enjoys widespread approval in France. Consequently, President Macron’s attendance at the Mass in Marseille drew criticism, especially from the left, despite his emphasis on attending out of courtesy and respect rather than as a participant.