Pope in Marseille: Make Mediterranean a laboratory of peace in the world

Pope Francis closes the Mediterranean Meetings in Marseille by encouraging religious leaders and civil authorities to contribute to making the Mediterranean region a "foundation of peace" in the world, saying migration is not an emergency but a reality of our times requiring wise foresight.

By Lisa Zengarini

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 among the highlights of Pope Francis’ long address on Saturday morning at the closing session of the week-long Mediterranean Meetings at the Palais du Pharo in Marseille, which was attended 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.

Mediterranean is '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 inspired the Mediterranean Meetings initiative, the Mediterranean is “the beginning and foundation of peace among all the nations of the world”, a concentration of people, beliefs and traditions, similar to 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.

"Amidst today’s sea of conflicts," he said, "we are here to enhance the contribution of the Mediterranean, so that it can return to being a laboratory of peace. For this is its vocation, to be a place where different countries and realities can encounter each other on the basis of the humanity we all share, and not on the basis of contrasting ideologies."

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.

“The change of direction in our communities lies in treating {the poor} as brothers and sisters whose stories we know, not as troublesome problems; it lies in welcoming them, not hiding them; in integrating them, not evicting them; in giving them dignity. ”

Mare nostrum has become a graveyard for migrants

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," noted the Pope, "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 fuelling 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, integrating

Pope Francis acknowledged “the difficulties involved in welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating unexpected persons."

However, he added, “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.

"An assimilation that does not take into account differences and remains rigidly fixed in its own paradigms only makes ideas prevail over reality and jeopardizes the future, increasing distances and provoking ghettoization, which in turn sparks hostility and forms of intolerance," he said.

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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.

“Adore God and serve your neighbour, that is what counts.”

Referring to the last image of the lighthouse, 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 future, 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".

He said a "laboratory doesn't work", and urged everyone “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 an appeal for a better Mediterranean region.

“Be a sea of good, in order to confront the poverty of today in solidarity and cooperation," he said. "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.”

Marseille, Final Session of the “Rencontres Méditerranéennes”

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23 September 2023, 11:16