Florence meeting closes with appeals for peace, encounter, fraternity
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ - Florence, Italy
The five-day “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace” meeting of Bishops and Mayors, held in the Italian city of Florence on 23-27 February, ended its sessions on Sunday with the celebration of Holy Mass, presided over by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti.
The Church and civil leaders met, separately at first and then jointly on Saturday, to deliberate and sign the “Florence Charter”- a document illustrating the values and principles to guide their work for the improvement of the countries surrounding what the ancient Romans called the Mare Nostrum ("our sea" in Latin).
Joint effort to deal with challenges
The last day of the meeting began with an introduction from the host mayor, Dario Nardella of Florence. His speech was followed by testimonies from six participants, who illustrated their experiences of being confronted with the realities surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and highlighting the importance of concerted efforts to face the challenges.
Following the testimonies, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, spoke to the participants gathered at the Sala Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio. Afterwards, Cardinal Bassetti, alongside Cardinal Betori of Florence and Mayor Nardella, paid a private visit to a group of migrants and refugees.
In his speech, Cardinal Bassetti noted the meeting’s importance for Pope Francis, who could not be present in Florence due to health reasons.
The Cardinal highlighted four elements that summarized the 5-day meeting: history; the example of Giorgio La Pira - the Catholic Mayor of Florence who organized and hosted the Conference of the Mayors of Capital Cities in 1955; the Mediterranean as an important political and cultural crossroad; and, the world's arrival at an apocalyptic juncture in history, which highlights the need for peace and fraternity in the Mediterranean.
Appeal for peace in Ukraine
Cardinal Bassetti also turned his thoughts to the disheartening situation caused by Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, and called for an end to the conflict.
He noted that the war in Ukraine has begun at a time when “the clock of history has stopped its hands in Florence and the hour of peace and dialogue has sounded” with Bishops and Mayors signing the Florence Charter, moved by “a willingness to listen and encounter each other.”
Jesus allows Himself to be found
Afterward, during the homily at the closing Mass, Cardinal Bassetti reflected on the Gospel reading of the day (Lk 6:39-45) where Jesus speaks to the people in the plain and not from a mountain. He explains that it means that Jesus wants to reach everyone and He allows Himself to be found.
The Cardinal pointed out that the plains of Palestine could be likened to Florence, nestled in the plain of the Arno – not on an unreachable peak or in a fortified citadel. It is here, he says, that the Lord is found, who seeks to address a word of salvation to the pastors and delegates present.
Encounter to foster communion, fraternity
Reflecting on the three pairs of images in the Gospel: the teacher and the disciple, the splinter and the beam, and the tree and its fruit, the Cardinal pointed out that there is a pearl of Mediterranean wisdom behind pairing, that of continuous encounter, as even Jesus sent out his disciples in twos.
“The Christian faith, too, is not indoctrination or self-conviction, but listening to those who have gone before us and engaging with other companions on the journey,” he said, adding that this is the experience they have had: listening to the various stories coming from the shores of the Mediterranean in an encounter that fosters communion and fraternity.
“May the Mediterranean, which is the geographical space where the Son of God decided to be born and where his Gospel took its first steps, become an immense place of resonance for this message of fraternity,” he prayed.
“May the peoples of the Mediterranean be witnesses to the whole world of a possible peace, the peace that starts from a heart converted to the Gospel and produces concrete choices for the good of all.”