By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
At the invitation of the Italian Episcopal Conference, various leaders of the Churches of the Mediterranean region have been meeting in Bari, Italy this past week. Pope Francis joined them on Sunday morning and offered words of encouragement and vision.
Vocation and future of the Mediterranean
Pope Francis characterized the gathering as one of reflecting “on the vocation and future of the Mediterranean, on the transmission of the faith and the promotion of peace”. He then noted that the process of globalization has “highlighted the role of the Mediterranean as a crossroads of interests and important social, political, religious and economic currents”.
Transmission of the faith
While the position of the countries along the Mediterranean make it a natural cultural crossroads, the Pope said that the “transmission of the faith is necessarily enriched by the heritage of the Mediterranean region”. Christian communities have kept the faith alive through catechesis, the reception of the sacraments, popular piety and art. He reminded the Bishops that the transmission of the faith “cannot be detached from commitment to the common good”, but must be connected to a tireless work as peacemakers.
Peace, not war
“It is madness to destroy houses, bridges, factories and hospitals, to kill people and annihilate resources, instead of building human and economic relationships”, Pope Francis said. It is peace, he said, that is the “ultimate goal of every human society”. The Pope continued saying “There is no reasonable alternative to peace, because every attempt at exploitation or supremacy demeans both its author and its target”. Justice, he said, is the “indispensable condition” for building peace. In fact, he stated, “Justice is trampled underfoot when the needs of individuals are ignored and where partisan economic interests prevail over the rights of individuals and communities”.
If society becomes increasingly different to those in need, what good is its technological progress, the Pope then asked. “For our part, brothers”, Pope Francis said, “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”.
Mediterranean’s unique vocation
Pope Francis called the Mediterranean “the sea of intermingling”, and encouraged it to live up to its vocation which includes dialogue. “Dialogue alone enables us to come together, to overcome prejudices and stereotypes, to tell our stories and to come to know ourselves better”, he said. He described the act of listening as “not only an act of charity but also a way of listening to the Spirit of God who surely works in others and whose voice transcends the limits in which we are often tempted to constrain the truth”.
Theology of dialogue
Pope Francis proposed that a “theology of acceptance and dialogue” can be a means of taking steps toward incorporating not only the “truths we believe” but also other “defining points of our teaching”. This can then lead to a “renewed understanding and proclamation of the teaching of Scripture”. In the end, “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” Pope Francis said.
Example of the Apostle Paul
In conclusion, Pope Francis entrusted his brother bishops to “the intercession of the Apostle Paul who was the first to cross the Mediterranean”. “May his example”, he said, “show you the paths to pursue in the joyful and liberating task of handing on the faith in our own time”. And he left them with a prayer inspired by the Prophet Isaiah:
“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations” (Is 61:4). 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. May the Lord accompany your steps and bless your work of reconciliation and peace.”