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We need deeds, not words: 6 reflections from Francis in France

Pope Francis private meeting with people experiencing economic hardship at the House of the Missionaries of Charity


Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 09/23/23

The disparities have never been so wide ... The Church has been speaking about it in heartfelt tones for more than 50 years. 
François se recueille devant la stèle de Notre-Dame de la Garde à Marseille.

On Friday in Marseille, France, the Pope led a moment of silence and a time of reflection with religious leaders near a memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea.

The cross of the memorial, the Camargue cross, represents the theological virtues: the three tridents being faith, the heart being charity, and the anchor being hope.

1Don’t make people into numbers

Let us not get used to considering shipwrecks as news stories, and deaths at sea as numbers: no, they are names and surnames, they are faces and stories, they are broken lives and shattered dreams. I think of so many brothers and sisters drowned in fear, along with the hopes they carried in their hearts. Faced with such a drama, we need deeds, not words. Before that, however, we need to show some humanity: We need silence, weeping, compassion and prayer. I now invite you to spend a moment of silence in memory of these brothers and sisters of ours: Let us be moved by their tragedies. [Moment of silence]

Pope Francis receiving a life jacket from a member of SOS Mediterranee a European NGO that rescue migrants at sea
Pope Francis receiving a life jacket from a member of SOS Mediterranee a European NGO that rescue migrants at sea

2Our duty as human beings

3A choice, a crossroads

In the book-testimony Little Brother, the protagonist, at the end of the troubled journey that takes him from the Republic of Guinea to Europe, says, “When you sit above the sea you are at a crossroads. On one side is life, on the other is death. There are no other choices.”

Dear friends, we too are at a crossroads: On the one hand, there is fraternity, which makes the human community flourish with goodness; on the other, indifference, which bloodies the Mediterranean. We find ourselves at a crossroads of civilization. Either the culture of humanity and fraternity, or the culture of indifference: let everyone fend for himself or herself.

4Mary’s gaze

The Bonne Mère brings about for all people a very tender “intersection of gazes”: the first is that of Jesus, to whom Mary always directs our attention and whose love is reflected in her eyes – Our Lady’s most authentic gesture is “Do what he tells you,” indicating Jesus. The other gaze is that of countless men and women of all ages and conditions. She gathers them all together and brings them to God …

5A gift, not a burden

Certainly, no one can fail to see the difficulties involved in welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating unexpected persons, yet the principal criterion cannot be the preservation of one’s own well-being, but rather the safeguarding of human dignity. Those who take refuge in our midst should not be viewed as a heavy burden to be borne: If we consider them instead as brothers and sisters, they will appear to us above all as gifts. 

François dans les quartiers de Marseille


The Mediterranean mirrors the world, with the South turning to the North, with many developing countries, plagued by instability, regimes, wars and desertification, looking to those that are well-off, in a globalized world in which we are all connected, but one in which the disparities have never been so wide. This situation is not a novelty of recent years, and this Pope who came from the other side of the world is not the first to warn of it with urgency and concern. The Church has been speaking about it in heartfelt tones for more than fifty years. 

Shortly after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Saint Paul VI, in his Encyclical Populorum Progressio, wrote: “The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every man to hear his brother’s plea and answer it lovingly” (No. 3).

Pope Paul listed “three duties” of the more developed nations, “stemming from the human and supernatural brotherhood of man… mutual solidarity – the aid that the richer nations must give to developing nations; social justice – the rectification of trade relations between strong and weak nations; universal charity – the effort to build a more human world community, where all can give and receive, and where the progress of some is not bought at the expense of others.” 

Pope Francis (L) meets with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Palais du Pharo in the southern port city of Marseille
ImmigrationPope Francis
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