Pope calls for action to rebuild the broken links in the 'beloved Mediterranean region’
In his address to the bishops taking part in the meeting on the ‘Mediterranean frontier of peace", Pope Francis urges the Churches to proclaim the Word and work for the common good. “The Mediterranean remains a strategic region whose equilibrium has an impact on the other parts of the world,” he said. War “is a genuine madness.” Francis slams the “great hypocrisy” of those countries that preach peace and then sell weapons. He compares what today’s populist leaders say to what was said during the Nazi era. He demands religious freedom for persecuted Christians and values cooperation with groups from other religions.
Bari (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis on Sunday spoke in Saint Nicholas Basilica in the southern Italian city of Bari at the end of a four-day meeting (19-23 February) on the Mediterranean frontier of peace, which brought together 58 bishops and patriarchs from the Mediterranean
After an introductory address by Card Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy, and brief speech by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the pontiff spoke to the assembly.
He first of all praised the choice of Bari as the meeting place since the city is an important centre of relations "with the Middle East and Africa.” Thanks to the presence of the relics of Saint Nicholas, revered by Orthodox Christians, it is also a place whose diocese has always “fostered ecumenical and interreligious dialogue”.
“This is the work the Lord entrusts to you on behalf of this beloved Mediterranean region: to restore relationships that have been broken, to rebuild cities destroyed by violence, to make a garden flourish in what is now a desert, to instil hope in the hopeless, and to encourage those caught up in themselves not to fear their brothers or sisters.”
“The Mare nostrum,” said Francis, “forces surrounding peoples and cultures to constant interact, to recall what they have in common, and to realize that only by living in concord can they enjoy the opportunities this region offers, thanks to its resources, its natural beauty and its varied human traditions. [. . .] The Mediterranean remains a strategic region whose equilibrium has an impact on the other parts of the world.” At the same time, this sea is the scene of “deep fault lines and economic, religious, confessional and political conflicts” in which Christians “are called to offer our witness to unity and peace.”
Speaking against the scourge of war, he noted that “preaching of the Gospel cannot be detached from commitment to the common good; it impels us to act tirelessly as peacemakers. The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups. Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises.”
War “is genuine madness; it is madness to destroy houses, bridges, factories and hospitals, to kill people and annihilate resources, instead of building human and economic relationships. It is a kind of folly to which we cannot resign ourselves: war can never be considered normal, or accepted as an inevitable means of settling differences and conflicts of interest.”
Speaking without his written speech, Francis slammed those governments that preach phoney peace, guilty of the “grave sin of hypocrisy. In international meetings, some countries speak of peace but then sell weapons. This is the great hypocrisy.”
In the quest for the common good (“another name for peace”), Francis praised action in favour of justice, volunteering and works of charity. “What use is a society of constant technological progress, if it becomes increasingly indifferent to its members in need?”
On migrants, Francis wants to see cooperation between the Churches and governments of Europe and those of the country of origin, which, “with the departure of so many young people, witness the impoverishment of their own future.”
The pope slams indifference and shutting others out. “Fear is leading to a sense that we need to defend ourselves against what is depicted in demagogic terms as an invasion. The rhetoric of the clash of civilizations merely serves to justify violence and to nurture hatred. The failure or, in any case, the weakness of politics, and factionalism are leading to forms of radicalism and terrorism. The international community has been content with military interventions, whereas it should have built institutions that can guarantee equal opportunities and enable citizens to assume their responsibility for the common good.
Again without his written text, in a clear reference to Nazism, Francis said: “I am scared when I hear what some modern populist leader says; they remind me of what others said sowing fear and hatred in the 1930s.”
“To be part of the Mediterranean region is a source extraordinary potential: may we not allow a spirit of nationalism to spread the opposite view, namely, that those states less accessible and geographically more isolated should be privileged. Dialogue alone enables us to come together, to overcome prejudices and stereotypes, to tell our stories and to come to know ourselves better.”
For the pontiff, only dialogue is the way, through “acceptance that is not superficial but heartfelt and benevolent, practised by everyone at all levels, both the everyday level of interpersonal relationships and the political and institutional levels, and fostered by those who shape culture and bear greater responsibility in the area of public opinion.”
What is more, “We need to develop a theology of acceptance and of dialogue leading to a renewed understanding and proclamation of the teaching of Scripture”, valuing “the seeds of truth also possessed by others.”
Stressing the importance of religious freedom, Francis noted: “For our part, brothers, let us speak out to demand that government leaders protect minorities and religious freedom. The persecution experienced above all – but not only – by Christian communities is a heart-rending fact that cannot leave us indifferent.”
Citing the Document on Human Fraternity signed in Abu Dhabi, he stresses the potential of “Religious groups and different communities” working together “more actively in helping the poor and welcoming immigrants, in such a way that our relationships are motivated by common goals and accompanied by active commitment. Those who together dirty their hands in building peace and fraternal acceptance will no longer be able to fight over matters of faith, but will pursue the paths of respectful discussion, mutual solidarity, and the quest for unity.”