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Pope Francis on Friday entrusted a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France. After landing in the historic port city Sept. 22, the pope made his way to the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard, to ask for the intercession of Mary together with local priests, deacons, and religious.

The 19th-century basilica sits on the foundations of an ancient fort on a 489-foot limestone outcropping, the highest point of the city in southern France. Before the basilica, there was a medieval chapel on the same site. Pope Francis is in Marseille to participate in the Mediterranean Encounter, the “Rencontres Méditerranéennes” — a gathering of some 120 young people of various creeds with bishops from 30 countries. The encounter is a “cultural festival” drawing together associations and groups committed to dialogue and ecological issues. 

“We place under [Mary’s] mantle the fruit of the Rencontres Méditerranéennes, together with the expectations and hopes of your hearts,” the pope told clergy at the basilica Sept. 22. The pope will join in the Mediterranean Encounter on the morning of Sept. 23.

Francis’ 27-hour trip will include an address to religious leaders, a private encounter with the poor, and the celebration of Mass. He will also meet with France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne.

The last pope to visit Marseille was Clement VII in 1533. 

Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, also visited the city and the Basilica of Notre Dame de La Garde when he was a young priest studying in Rome.

Pope Francis said he is “in the company of great pilgrims” who have visited the basilica, such as Pope John Paul II, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and St. Charles de Foucauld.  “In the biblical reading, the prophet Zephaniah exhorted us to joy and confidence, reminding us that the Lord our God is not far away, he is here, near to us, in order to save us,” the pope said.

“In a way, this message reminds us of the history of this basilica and what it represents,” he continued. “In fact, it was not founded in memory of a miracle or a particular apparition, but simply because, since the 13th century, the holy people of God have sought and found here, on the hill of La Garde, the presence of the Lord through the eyes of his holy Mother.”

“That is why, for centuries, the people of Marseille — especially those who navigate the waves of the Mediterranean — have been coming up here to pray,” he said. Francis encouraged the 119 priests of the Archdiocese of Marseille, which serves approximately 742,000 Catholics, to take Mary and her gaze as an example for their priesthood.

“Even with all the many daily concerns, I beg you, do not detract from the warmth of God’s paternal and maternal gaze,” he said. “It is marvelous to generously dispense his forgiveness, that is, to always, always, loosen the chains of sin through grace and free people from those obstacles, regrets, grudges, and fears against which they cannot prevail alone.”

He reminded the priests of the beauty and joy of making the sacraments available to people in both happy and sad moments, “and of transmitting, in the name of God, unexpected hopes for his consoling presence, healing compassion, and moving tenderness.”

“Be close to all, especially the frail and less fortunate, and never let those who suffer lack your attentive and discreet closeness,” he said. “In this way, there will grow in them and also in you the faith that animates the present, the hope that opens to the future, and the charity that lasts forever.”

“Like Mary, let us bring the blessing and peace of Jesus everywhere, in every family and heart,” Pope Francis said.

By Hannah Brockhaus

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