Pope Francis called on European governments to rescue asylum seekers who cross the sea to escape conflict, and not to hinder volunteers trying to do so, in his speech in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille.
"People who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued," he said on Friday at an inter-religious prayer service at a monument dedicated to those lost at sea.
The pope singled out "the disinterest that, with velvet gloves, condemns others to death." Francis said "it is a duty of humanity, it is a duty of civilization" to save people in difficulty, warning governments against the "fanaticism of indifference" and "paralysis of fear."
He also thanked NGOs rescuing migrants in danger at sea and condemned efforts to prevent their activity — many of which are organized either by the European Union, its members, or partner governments it strikes deals with — as "gestures of hate."
Francis was visiting Marseille to attend a meeting of Catholic bishops and young people from the Mediterranean area. It is the first visit by a pope to France's second largest city in 500 years. On Saturday afternoon, Francis will lead a mass at the Velodrome stadium for 100,000 people.
Pope Francis has made the plight of migrants a priority of his 10-year pontificate. He traveled to Lampedusa in his first trip as pope to honor migrants who drowned and celebrated Mass on the US-Mexico border. He also brought home 12 Syrian Muslims on his plane after visiting a refugee camp in Lesbos in Greece.
Francis said on the Sunday before his visit to Marseille that migration was "essential for the future of all, which will only flourish if it is based on fraternity." Human dignity must come first, the pope said, for "real people, and especially the poorest."
The pope's Friday call follows a wave of refugee boats that arrived on the small Italian island of Lampedusa from North Africa last week, sparking outrage in Italy and a heated debate across Europe over how to share responsibility for the influx.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said during his visit to Italy earlier this week that Germany was struggling to accept more migrants. He acknowledged that both Italy and Germany had "heavy loads to bear" and called for a "fair distribution" of migratory burdens within Europe.