Pope Francis briefly allowed his frustrations to get the better of him over the weekend when he appeared to express his annoyance over being kept waiting by French president Emmanuel Macron.
Footage aired on Italian television showed the pontiff, 86, sitting by himself in a chair in Marseille’s Palais du Pharo ahead of a meeting between the pair on Saturday.
But Francis appears to become increasingly agitated, looking pointedly at Macron’s empty chair beside him in the antechamber and slapping his hand on the armrest.
The camera zooms in on the pope’s frowning face – with the French, EU and Vatican flags behind him – as he looks increasingly annoyed over being kept waiting. As his wait drags on, the pope fiddles with the papal pectoral cross, his face like thunder.
Eventually, after well over a minute-and-a-half, the pope rises from his seat and greets Macron who briskly enters the room. Any sign of annoyance from Francis is gone as he smiles and shakes the French president’s hand.
Pope Francis (pictured on Saturday in Marseille) briefly allowed his frustrations to get the better of him over the weekend when he appeared to express his annoyance over being kept waiting by French president Emmanuel Macron
But if the pope was able to shrug the affront off in the moment, commentators in Italy were less forgiving.
Italian columnist Giuseppe De Lorenzo chastised ‘rude’ Macron in an article on Sunday, ironically calling him His Majesty Emmanuel II.
‘France, home of the Enlightenment, through and through. To such an extent that the President of the French Republic, the Macron praised by all years ago as the alleged savoir of Europe, can afford to make a guest wait in the antechamber,’ he wrote.
‘And not just any gentleman, but Pope Francis , a man of a certain age, who has faced a long journey and who would also be a Head of State.’
He added: ‘We are not at the level of Erdogan who foists Ursula von der Leyen on the sofa on the sidelines, but we’re close.’
The title of De Lorenzo’s article was also damning: ‘Shame on Macron: the Pope in the antechamber is not secularism, it is an offence,’ it read.
Nevertheless, witnesses went on to report that Pope Francis and Macron greeted each other ‘warmly’, which the video appeared to confirm, in the second high-profile meeting in France in days after Britain’s King Charles III’s visit last week.
But while the pair appeared in good spirits when Macron finally entered the room, Francis and France’s head of state were in disagreement over one of the main topics on the agenda for their ‘meetings on the Mediterranean’: Migration.
Footage aired on Italian television showed the pontiff, 86, sitting by himself in a chair in Marseille’s Palais du Pharo ahead of a meeting between the pair on Saturday
Francis appeared to become increasingly agitated as he waited, looking pointedly at Macron’s empty chair beside him in the antechamber while slapping his hand on the armrest
Eventually, after well over a minute-and-a-half, the pope rose from his seat and greeted Macron who briskly entered the room. Any sign of annoyance from Francis was gone as he smiled and shook the French president’s hand
But while the pair appeared in good spirits when Macron finally entered the room, Francis and France’s head of state were in disagreement over one of the main topics on the agenda for their ‘meetings on the Mediterranean’: Migration
On Saturday, Francis led tens of thousands of worshippers for a mass after earlier striding into a politically loaded debate in the French Mediterranean city by urging European states not to treat migrants as invaders.
The 86-year-old’s visit has been shadowed by the controversy over migrant arrivals in Europe, and his plea to welcome people puts him at odds with most EU governments, including France and Italy.
But the centrepiece of the two-day trip was the mass at Marseille’s main stadium the Velodrome – usually the venue for rugby or football matches.
The Pope received huge cheers as he closed the service, asking the faithful in French to ‘pray for me, it’s a difficult job’ – his favoured parting line.
Marseille archbishop Jean-Marc Aveline declared that the pope had been ‘baptised as a citizen of Marseille’, again drawing an ovation from the crowd.
Francis had entered the stadium aboard his open-sided popemobile after being driven through the streets, as residents waved Vatican and French flags.
Clutches of black- or white-robed priests and nuns were scattered through the crowds during the service, while volunteers distributed communion wafers.
Fans of the much-loved Olympique de Marseille football team lifted up a giant banner of a smiling Francis in the crowd.
According to local authorities there were 50,000 people in the stadium while 100,000 had lined the streets during the pope’s tour.
The pontiff, who looked sprightly despite his use of a wheelchair between engagements, showed no fear in entering the fraught debate on migrants.
‘Those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they look for welcome,’ Francis said in a speech earlier Saturday, closing a conference of bishops and young people from around the Mediterranean.
French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and his wife Brigitte (left) attend the departure ceremony for Pope Francis (centre) at Marseille Provence Airport, in Marseille
Macron and his wife Brigitte are seen walking along-side the pope in a wheelchair
Migration is ‘a reality of our times, a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must be governed with wise foresight, including a European response,’ he added.
Referencing the many migrants who died on the sea crossing, he warned against turning ‘the Mediterranean, the mare nostrum, from the cradle of civilisation into the mare mortuum, the graveyard of dignity’.
Worshippers cheered when Aveline thanked the pontiff for his ‘powerful and courageous words’, in an apparent rebuke to Macron, present in the stadium, whose government plans to toughen up controls on migrants.
A French presidential official said that Macron and the pope had discussed migration in bilateral talks earlier. ‘France has nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s a country of welcome and integration,’ the official said.
The migration debate has been stoked by mass arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this month.
The pope visited Lampedusa in 2013 to warn against ‘indifference’ to migrants’ plight, and he was asked on his plane back to Rome Saturday if he felt he had failed.
‘No,’ he replied, saying that ‘today there is awareness of the migration problem’.
Pope Francis reacts as he arrives to celebrate mass at the Velodrome stadium, in the southern port city of Marseille on September 23
Pope Francis waves to a massive crowd during a holy mass at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, south of France
A giant image of Pope Francis is lifted as he arrives at the Velodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, to celebrate mass, Saturday, September 23, 2023
Some politicians on the left have criticised Macron’s decision to attend Saturday’s mass as an infringement of state secularism.
Others on the right have attacked Francis for interfering in domestic politics.
The pontiff did nothing Saturday to dodge such allegations, appearing to weigh in on two of Macron’s projects – assisted dying and inscribing the right to abortion in the constitution.
Old people risk being ‘pushed aside, under the false pretences of a supposedly dignified and ‘sweet’ death that is more ‘salty’ than the waters of the sea’, Francis warned.
Asked directly about France’s plans to legalise euthanasia, the pope told reporters on the papal plane: ‘We don’t play with life, either at the beginning or the end.’
He had earlier spoken of ‘unborn children, rejected in the name of a false right to progress, which is instead a retreat into the selfish needs of the individual’.
A view of the stage as people wait for the Pope Francis to begin celebrating mass at the Velodrome stadium, in Marseille, France on September 23
The French presidential official said that Macron discussed the ‘methodology’ and the ‘calendar’ of a bill on the end of life that the government wants to present to parliament in the next weeks.
Francis’s messages may have less resonance given Catholicism’s long decline in France.
Fewer than a third of people still say they are Catholic, and only a small fraction of those regularly attend mass.
The country’s religious heritage nevertheless still has enormous weight, with Macron showing off progress in restoring the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in central Paris to Britain’s King Charles III earlier this week.