The Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem spoke at the meeting on the ‘Mediterranean frontier of peace’. In his address, he said: “The Churches of the Middle East and North Africa have repeatedly asserted that they do not only need economic aid, but need above all solidarity, to feel heard”. Brotherhood and human solidarity are needed, but also the courage to speak out.
Bari (AsiaNews) – The bishops from the dioceses that border the Mediterranean – as well as those whose cultures are linked to the area – came together in the city of Bari (Italy) from Wednesday until today (19-23 February) for a meeting of reflection and spirituality centred on the theme Mediterranean frontier of peace, organised and promoted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy (CEI).
Some 58 bishops and patriarchs took part in the event designed to find common paths of Christian witness in the face of common challenges such as terrorism and religious freedom, wars, inter-Christian and inter-faith dialogue, migrants. This morning the pastors met with Pope Francis in Bari’s Saint Nicholas Basilica (Basilica di San Nicola).
The meeting, led by CEI president Card Gualtiero Bassetti, saw Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, address the assembled prelates, summarising his work. He was followed by the pontiff, whose own speech we present in another article. Here is what Mgr Pizzaballa said (translation by AsiaNews).
Most blessed Father,
the three days of reflection and prayer were a beautiful ecclesial experience, bringing us closer to one other in a more tangible way. We listened to each other, and especially heard the cry coming from the lands on the southern shores of the Mare Nostrum; we exchanged experiences and proposals and, finally, we gave ourselves some perspectives.
First of all, we sought to listen to the reality in which we live. For centuries, the Mediterranean has been at the centre of all kinds cultural, commercial and religious exchanges, but it has also been the scene of wars, conflicts and political and even religious divisions. At present, instead of decreasing, all this seems to be increasing. Trade wars, hunger for energy, economic and social inequalities have made this basin the centre of huge interests. The fate of entire populations is dominated by the interests of a few, causing violence serving development models created and supported largely by the West. In the past, the churches – just think of the colonial period – were instrumental to this model. Today we want to ask for forgiveness, in particular, for passing on a broken world to young people.
Our Churches in North Africa and the Middle East are the ones that pay the highest price. Numerically decimated, they are a small minority; however, they are not defeatist Churches. On the contrary, they have rediscovered the essentials of the Christian faith and testimony. They include communities that have remained faithful to Christ even in the face of huge difficulties as well as persecution. The “way of the cross” is part of the experience of the Mediterranean Churches. In this regard, our thoughts go in particular to the fate of thousands of migrants, who flee situations of persecution and poverty and have changed the face of many of our Churches.
The Churches of the Middle East and North Africa have repeatedly asserted that they do not only need economic aid, but need above all solidarity, to be heard, to know that someone is making their hard reality their own, one however that also shows the light of many stories of faithfulness as well as human and Christian solidarity.
b) Experiences and proposals
So, what can we do, as Churches, in the face of all this? Whilst current development models subject people to consumption and violence, our communities haven’t stopped building different, alternative ways of peace, development and growth; ways that bear witness to our Christian style of being within reality; ways that put people at the centre, in schools, hospitals, in the countless initiatives of solidarity and closeness to the poor.
Dialogue is the other form of expression of our Church life. Through ecumenical dialogue between the Churches, we commit ourselves to stably organising common prayers for peace; we establish, where they do not exist, interfaith committees, especially with Muslim believers, to carry out together works of solidarity and sharing. We want to grow and transform human fraternity and solidarity into experiences. This perspective also entails parrhesia, that is, the ability to be forthright and speak out against the evil that causes poverty and creates structural situations of injustice. In a context often full of manipulations, our Churches wish to become a single prophetic voice of truth and freedom.
Finally, we insisted on strengthening initiatives of mutual knowledge, also by facilitating the twinning of dioceses and parishes, the exchange of priests, the experiences of seminarians, and volunteering. “Come and see” was our motto. So far, perhaps there has been a lot of "talk about the Churches and their realities.” Now we need to move to “talking with the Churches and their realities.” Hospitality, which is typical of Mediterranean culture, must begin primarily with us.
In a complex and articulated reality such as that of the Mediterranean, we intend to take charge of its contradictions, learning and teaching in order to experience it with Christian hope.
We are only at the start of a journey that will be long, but certainly exciting. For this reason, we have decided to continue meeting, permanently, in order to be able, little by little, according to the timing the Lord will show us, to build a common path to foster the growth a culture of peace and communion in our wounded and broken contexts.
Based on our availability and commitment, we ask, Your Holiness, for the light of Your word.