The Mediterranean is a “mirror of the world” and “bears within itself a global vocation to fraternity, the only way to prevent and overcome conflict.” These words were one of the highlights of Pope Francis’ long address on Saturday at the closing session of the week-long Mediterranean Meetings at the Palais du Pharo of Marseille, which was attended among others, by the by the President of France Emmanuel Macron.
For seven days over 120 representatives of Churches and young people from the five shores of the Mediterranean Sea shared the current political, economic, and environmental challenges of the region, but also their hopes for the future, with a special focus on the current migration crisis.
Recalling the distinctive cosmopolitan character of Marseille, a “tide of peoples” that “has made this city a mosaic of hope, with its great multi-ethnic and multi-cultural tradition”, reflecting the many civilizations of the Mediterranean, Pope Francis articulated his reflection around three aspects that characterize the Southern French city: the sea, the port and the lighthouse.
The Mediterranean is the beginning and foundation of peace
He noted that the intertwining of conflicts between different civilizations, religions and visions in the region we hear so much about today, must not make us forget that what the Romans used to call mare nostrum (our sea) has been for millennia “a place of encounter: among the Abrahamic religions; among Greek, Latin and Arabic thought; among science, philosophy and law; and among many other realities.”
Indeed, the Pope said, echoing the words of the now Venerable late mayor of Florence Giorgio La Pira (who has inspired the Mediterranean Meetings initiative, ed.), the Mediterranean is “the beginning and foundation of peace among all the nations of the world”, a concentration of people, beliefs and traditions, as the Sea of Galilee where Jesus proclaimed the Beatitudes.
This “crossroads of North and South, East and West," Pope Francis said, “urges us to oppose the divisiveness of conflicts with the coexistence of differences” and at the same time “brings together the challenges of the whole world” today, including climate change.
Listening to the cry of the poor
For the Mediterranean “to return to being a laboratory of peace” in the world, amidst “today’s sea of conflicts” and resurgent "belligerent nationalisms", it must listen to the cry of the poor, as Jesus did on banks of the Sea of Galilee. “We need to start again from there, from the often silent cry of the least among us” who are not numbers but faces, the Pope said.
Noting that “the sea of human coexistence is polluted by instability” even in European cities like Marseille, facing communal tensions and rising crime, Pope Francis once again insisted on the urgent need for more solidarity even to prevent lawlessness: “Indeed,” he said , the real social evil is not so much the increase of problems, but the decrease of care” for the most vulnerable: young people who are easy preys of crime, frightened families, elderly people, unborn children, people enduring violence and injustice in Africa and the Middle East, including Christians fleeing persecution, and, migrants losing their lives as they attempt crossing the mare nostrum, which has become a "mare mortuum (a dead sea, ed.), the graveyard of dignity".
Migration: not an emergency, but a reality of our times
Reflecting on the second feature of Marseille, a big port city open to the sea with a story of immigration and emigration, Pope Francis decried the fact that several other Mediterranean cities have closed their ports to quench fears of a supposed “invasion” of migrants. “Yet – the Pope noted - those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they look for welcome”.
As for the “emergency” many speak about, he remarked that “the phenomenon of migration is not so much a short-term urgency, always good for fueling alarmist propaganda, but a reality of our times, a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must be governed with wise foresight.”
Here too, he noted, the “Mediterranean mirrors the world”, with the poorer countries of the South “plagued by instability, regimes, wars and desertification” turning to the wealthier North.
Again, the problem of ever-growing disparities between the haves and have-nots is not new, as the Church has been saying for decades, the Pope said recalling Pope St. Paul VI's Encyclical "Populorum Progressio".
Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating
Pope Francis acknowledged “the difficulties involved in welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating unexpected persons, yet, he said, “the principal criterion cannot be the preservation of one’s own well-being, but rather the safeguarding of human dignity.”
He reiterated that in the face of the scourge of the exploitation of human beings, “the solution is not to reject but to ensure, according to the possibilities of each, an ample number of legal and regular entrances” of migrants, in cooperation with their countries of origin.
He further undercores the crucial importance of integration in the hosting countries, which he warned, does not mean assimilation.
Witnessing the Gospel of charity and fraternity
Recalling that the port of Marseille is also a “door of faith”, Pope Francis went on to remark the duty of Christians to witness the Lord’s preference for the poor and the Gospel of charity and fraternity. “We are called to bear witness, not to embroider the Gospel with words, but to give it flesh”, he said, citing the example of Saint Charles de Foucauld, the “universal brother”, of the seven martyrs Tibhirine in Algeria, but also of all those agents of charity in our own day.
Referring to the last image of the lighthouse he evoked, Pope Francis underscored the need for the Mediterranean Churches of finding “cooperative ways forward” to address the challenges of the region.
In this regard, he suggested considering also the expediency of a Mediterranean Bishops’ Conference “that could offer greater possibilities for regional dialogue and representation”, and “to work towards a specific pastoral plan" on the issue of migration so that those dioceses that are most exposed can provide the best spiritual and human assistance to migrants in need.
Young people, a light that indicates the way of the future
He then pointed to the role of young people as “a light that indicates the way of the future” in the Mediterranean, underlining again the crucial importance of education to help surmount barriers and overcome preconceptions. He drew attention in particular on universities “as laboratories of dreams” and of this furure, where young people mature “by encountering one another, coming to know one another, and discovering cultures and contexts both near and diverse”. “In this way, prejudices are dismantled, wounds are healed and fundamentalist rhetoric is rejected”, he said, adding that the Church can certainly contribute to this by offering her educational networks and encouraging a “creativity of fraternity”.
A new Mediterranean theology to prevent misuse of religion
Finally, Pope Francis called for a “Mediterranean theology”, capable of developing ways of thinking “rooted in reality”, in "real life" because "a "laboratory dosn't work", and poised “to unite generations by linking memory and future, and promoting with originality the ecumenical journey of Christians and dialogue between believers of different religions”, so as to prevent all violent and instrumental misuse of religion.
Saluting President Macron, Pope Francis concluded his speech with this appeal: “Be a sea of good, in order to confront the poverty of today in solidarity and cooperation; be a welcoming port, in order to embrace all those who seek a better future; be a lighthouse of peace, in order to pierce, through the culture of encounter, the dark abysses of violence and war.”