Pope Francis arrived at the French port city of Marseille for a short visit that will focus on Europe's migration crisis, specifically how migrants and refugees face “a terrible lack of humanity” from European authorities.
His trip takes place after thousands of migrants arrived last week on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
On Saturday, the Pope will take part in the closing session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” event covering migration, economic inequality and climate change.
He blasted the “fanaticism of indifference” that refugees must endure as they seek a better life.
The Pope lamented the plight of migrants living in terrible conditions in camps, specifically mentioning Libya, and said they were then put out to sea to meet an uncertain fate at the hands of human traffickers.
He disembarked at Marseille airport from his plane away from the view of cameras, before Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne greeted him on the airport tarmac. The pontiff then stood up from his wheelchair to acknowledge the welcome of a military band.
Almost 130,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, according to government data, nearly double the figure for the same period of 2022.
On an overnight visit to Marseilles, the Pope presided over a moment of prayer at a memorial, built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Mediterranean, dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea.
While there, Pope Francis said that far too many people fleeing war, poverty, misery and climate disasters had never made it to shore.
“And so this beautiful sea has become a huge cemetery, where many brothers and sisters are deprived even of the right to a grave,” he said.
Adding to prepared remarks, he extended a special thank you to the humanitarian groups that rescue migrants, blasting efforts to block their rescues as “gestures of hatred”.
Speaking at the Vatican last Sunday, he said migration “represents a challenge that is not easy … but which must be faced together”.
He emphasised the need for “fraternity, putting human dignity and real people, especially those most in need, in first place”.
Pope Francis said the trip is “to Marseille, not France”, and one of his first visits on Friday evening was to the monument to the heroes and victims of the sea.
It had echoes of his first visit as Pope – in 2013 to Lampedusa, where he paid tribute to migrants who had died at sea and condemned “the globalisation of indifference”.
French bishops deliberately chose the diverse port city which has a long history of migration – particularly from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa – and the influences of these different cultures are still felt in its streets.
Marseille is a French city where migrant populations still live in the centre. But it is not an immigration utopia. The city has many of the problems that plague most urban centres – crime, drugs and racism.
Italy's right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni says the problems of migration need to dealt with by the EU, not only those receiving migrants, which include Malta and Spain.
While Pope Francis has said often that migrants should be shared among the 27 EU countries, his overall openness towards migrants, including once calling their exclusion “scandalous, disgusting and sinful”, has riled some politicians, not least in France.
“He behaves like a politician, or the head of an NGO, and not a pope,” said Gilles Pennelle, general director of the far-right Rassemblement National party of Marine Le Pen.
“I think that the Christian message is one of welcome on an individual level, but it [migration] is an immense political problem and whether or not to welcome migrants is for politicians to decide.”