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Pope Francis to attend ‘Mediterranean Meetings’ in France to address ‘Europe’s biggest cemetery’

French President Emmanuel Macron shows Pope Francis a 1796 French edition of Immanuel Kant's book, "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,' in this Oct. 24, 2022, file photo taken in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. The pope is scheduled to meet the French president during his two-day trip to Marseille, France, in September. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Highlighting the Mediterranean as the sea that connects nations, cultures and religions across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Pope Francis will travel to Marseille, France, Sept. 22-23 for a meeting of bishops, civic leaders and young people from across the Mediterranean.

The pope is also scheduled to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron during the two-day trip, according to the schedule released by the Vatican July 29.

The “Mediterranean Meetings,” organized and promoted by the Italian bishops’ conference, is the third stage of an initiative aimed at fostering dialogue between Mediterranean leaders to address the region’s shared problems of economic inequality, climate issues, increasing migration patterns, interreligious dialogue and religiously-motivated conflict.

Two similar meetings were held in Bari, Italy in 2020 and Florence, Italy, in 2022. Later that year, Pope Francis gave Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, archbishop of Marseille, a red hat during a consistory for the creation of new cardinals at the Vatican.

Some 70 bishops are expected to attend the meeting in Marseille in addition to representatives from other churches, according to promotional materials for the meeting. Approximately 60 Mediterranean mayors have also been invited as well as young people from across the region.

A girl holds France’s flag as Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this April 12, 2017 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As a port city connecting East and West that is characterized by sizable North African, Armenian, Comorian and Middle Eastern communities as well as a diversity of religious traditions, “Marseille is a true microcosm of what is happening in the Mediterranean,” the meeting’s
program said.

Pope Francis has long shown great attention to the plight of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, making the first trip of his pontificate to the Italian island of Lampedusa — a destination for migrants coming to Europe by boat from north Africa.

He has repeatedly called the Mediterranean Sea “Europe’s biggest cemetery.”

Here is the detailed schedule of the pope’s trip released by the Vatican July 29. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parenthesis.

Friday, Sept. 22 (Rome, Marseille)

— 2:35 p.m. (8:35 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

— 4:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m) Arrival at Marseille International Airport and official welcome by French President Emmanuel Macron.

— 5:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.) Marian prayer with diocesan priests in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Greeting by pope.

— 6 p.m. (12 p.m.) Meeting with religious leaders near a memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea. Remarks by pope.

Pope Francis passes the flags of the Vatican and France as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-AUDIENCE-HOLY-DOOR Nov. 18, 2015.

Saturday, Sept. 23 (Marseille, Rome)

— 8:45 a.m. (2:45 a.m.) Private meeting with people in financial need at the archbishop’s residence.

— 10 a.m. (4 a.m.) Closing session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” at Pharo Palace. Speech by pope.

— 11:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.) Meeting with President Macron at Pharo Palace.

— 4:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.) Mass at the VĂ©lodrome Stadium. Homily by pope.

— 6:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.) Farewell ceremony at Marseille International Airport

— 7:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.) Departure from Marseille International Airport.

— 8:50 p.m. (2:50 p.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.