Hundreds of Catholics, including many black Africans, and Tunisian Muslims took part on Tuesday in La Goulette, near Tunis, in a procession behind a statue of the Virgin, to call for "living together" after strong tensions in the countries around the issue of migrants.
This year, for the feast of the Assumption , the statue of the "Madonna of Trapani" went further than the previous times, traveling 200 meters to the town hall of La Goulette , where the Archbishop of Tunis and the bishop of Trapani (Sicily) pronounced "a prayer for the civil authorities" .
Until 1964, when independent Tunisia put an end to a tradition started by Sicilian fishermen, the statue was led to the sea and followed by hundreds of Jews and Muslims, from a small church built on land donated by the regent of Tunis, Ahmed Bey I.
In 2017, the tradition resumed, and each year the statue of the Virgin comes out a little further from the forecourt of the church of Saint Augustin and Saint Fidèle, the oldest in Tunisia (consecrated in 1879). After the Gospel, the Archbishop of Tunis, Mgr Ilario Antoniazzi, 75, alluded to the tensions in Tunisia around the issue of migrants .
Following an inflammatory speech in February by President Kais Saied on illegal immigration , hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants lost their jobs and homes. Attacks have been recorded and several thousand have had to be repatriated by their embassies.
At the beginning of July, hundreds of others were driven out of the city of Sfax (center-east) and expelled by the Tunisian security forces, in particular towards a desert border zone with Libya where at least 27 are dead and 73 are missing .
"Let us not forget that the (statue of the) Virgin Mary made the journey from Trapani to La Goulette 100 years ago where she was so well received and respected", underlined Bishop Ilario, during a mass granting a great place for African religious songs.
He was delighted that the Madonna "can walk the streets to bless all the inhabitants of La Goulette and Tunisia" . This procession aims to "show that La Goulette and Tunisia are a model of coexistence between religions" and countries of origin, according to him.
In front of the town hall, the Archbishop and Bishop of Trapani, Pietro Maria Fragnelli, who came for the occasion, prayed that the "sons of our dear country Tunisia" become "capable of love instead of hatred, of union instead of division".