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In Marseille the voices of the Mediterranean in dialogue with Pope Francis

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In Marseille the voices of the Mediterranean in dialogue with Pope Francis

From Algeria to Lebanon, from Jerusalem to Morocco, bishops and young people of different faiths compare at a crossroads of migration to imagine new paths of coexistence. The experience of the paths started in the Solidarité neighborhood where 90% of the population is of Maghrebi or sub-Saharan origin. The Pontiff will also be given a Manifesto for a Theology of the Mediterranean drawn up by representatives of 17 institutions that overlook the five shores of the sea

Marseille (AsiaNews): «The Pope’s visit here to Marseille? We are happy about it: our city has an enormous need to be valorised for its potential and encouraged in the complex challenges it faces.” Zaïdat Youmix speaks sitting at a table in the small but welcoming “Reading Space” on the ground floor of one of the neighborhood’s public housing blocks Solidarityan extreme suburb right at the foot of the hills, where the presence of the State is less perceived than that of drug traffickers, the true masters of the area.

Here, where unemployment is double the regional average and the risk of ending up in the trap of drug dealing and violence is all too real, Zaïdat works with the association Acelem to introduce children and adolescents to reading and offer, through books and socialisation, new perspectives and opportunities to children who, in primary school, have often never set foot in the city centre. For this reason, he too, who is Muslim – like 90% of the population of the neighbourhood, mainly of Maghrebi and sub-Saharan origins – has a clear understanding of the strong meaning of the two days in Marseille of Pope Francis, who will arrive today in the afternoon and, immediately after the prayer with the local clergy in the iconic basilica of Notre Dame de La Garde which dominates the historic center around the old port from above, will stop together with the religious leaders for a moment of reflection in front of the memorial dedicated to the sailors and migrants lost in sea.

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The theme of migration will be at the center of the pontiff’s trip to Marseille which – as underlined by the director of the Catholic Institute of the Mediterranean, Father Patrice Chocholski – «is facing the sea and symbolizes very well the vocation to meeting and dialogue between peoples who live on its banks.” Precisely «the need for non-inhuman and wise management of migratory flows, which does not use migrations as a pawn on the chessboard of international geopolitics» is underlined in the “Manifesto for a Theology from the Mediterranean” drawn up in ten languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, by representatives of 17 institutions that overlook the five shores of the sea – from Lebanon to Spain, from Italy to France, from North Africa to the Balkans – and which will be presented to Pope Francis tomorrow. It is one of the fruits of Mediterranean Meetingsthe intense week organized by the archdiocese of Marseille and which brought together around sixty bishops and as many young people, in ideal continuation of the journey begun in Bari in 2020 and continued last year in Florence, for a reflection on the most urgent issues that they question the area, including the environmental emergency, the coexistence between different faiths, and then economy, education, work, peace.

«For us it is a very important opportunity to join forces and imagine new paths based on coexistence», says Dvir, a Jewish student from Jerusalem, who from experience is convinced of the «need to promote equality of rights among the citizens of any faith. In our land we have no alternatives.” Even Bochra, an Algerian Muslim who works together with Christians in her homeland on education and social promotion projects, here in Marseille she has come to bring “the true face of Islam, which literally means peace”. For Elisa, a law student originally from Trento, «the richness of this meeting is represented above all by the many faces, the many stories and experiences that I am getting to know, in an open and without prejudice way». An oasis of serenity for Rita, a Lebanese Christian who every day faces the difficulties of being a young woman «in a country experiencing a dramatic crisis, hostage to the corruption of politics. But I, as a Christian active in the diocesan pastoral commission and in the scouts, do everything I can to bring forward a new vision of civil commitment and coexistence for the common good.”

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These are the voices that Pope Francis will listen to tomorrow morning, after the private meeting with some people in economic difficulty, speaking at the Palazzo del Faro at the final session of the Met, during which he will also receive a ten-page document prepared by young people and bishops. Cardinal Cristobal Lopez Romero, archbishop of Rabat, explains: «For us, Marseille is a stage in a journey that must continue, always asking ourselves how we believers can contribute to breaking down borders and building a society characterized by peace». Also because – as the bishop of Constantine in Algeria, Monsignor Nicolas Lhernould, underlines – “we are called, starting from our faith, to commit ourselves in terms of social activism, as citizens in our contexts and on a global level”.

Then for the Pope, after the official meeting with the President of the Republic Macron, in the afternoon there will be the moment of embracing the city, with the Mass at the Velodrome stadium in front of at least 60 thousand people, Christians and others. In the name of dialogue and plurality: true watchwords of this pilgrimage.

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