By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis has sent a message to participants at the 7th edition of the “Rome MED Dialogues”- an annual initiative promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the Institute for International Political Studies – to rethink traditional approaches to the Mediterranean region, and to find new responses to the shared challenges it poses.
The Holy Father highlighted that although the great kingdoms of the Mediterranean region are gone, the mare nostrum continues to be of central geopolitical importance in our present times, as the Mediterranean is “a frontier, a place of encounter, for the three continents bathed by its waters, which thus touch one another and are called to peaceful coexistence.”
Interconnectedness v. independence
Emphasizing the importance of interconnection, the Pope said that it shows us that our planet is a great common home, and the destiny of every country is not independent of that of others.
In this regard, he warned against a dangerous shift in meaning of the concept of “independence” which used to mean “a legitimate claim of autonomy with respect to interference and occupation by foreign states”, but is now distorted to mean “indifference and “disinterest” with regard to the fate of other people.
He went on to call on politics and diplomacy to work to prevent the process of globalization from degenerating into a globalization of indifference, stressing, that a commitment of that sort is urgently needed today, because States and even entire continents cannot continue to ignore one another in the face of common challenges like climate change and the pandemic.
A new approach needed
Pope Francis then invited for new ways to confront the challenges of the Mediterranean region, saying that the immense resources and possibilities of the sea require an approach that is “not individual and self-interested, but united and shared by the countries that border it and those that do not, while in various ways having an interest in Mediterranean policies.”
He added that this new approach should be capable of easing the many regional conflicts arising “on the surface, in the depths and along the shores of the sea, and then, from the sea, extending to the continents.”
The challenge of migration
Among the different problems faced by the region, Pope Francis pointed at the urgent issue of migration - a challenge - he says, that has always been close to his heart and was the motivation of his first apostolic visit to the island of Lampedusa in 2013.
The Pope said that the events of past years have shown that “effective intervention can only result from a combined effort” by not only the border countries but also the continents of which they are a part of. He added that the migration issue shows us that “everything is connected” and that any stable solution calls for “an approach capable of taking into account its multiple aspects.”
“No one should be left alone to manage this enormous problem,” the Pope insisted. “Everyone needs to feel responsible, for everyone is in fact responsible, as we are reminded by God’s question to Cain in the first pages of the Bible: “Where is your brother?”
The Church and the Mediterranean
“I wish to note that the Mediterranean is at the centre of the Church’s constant attention,” the Pope said, adding that during his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece (2 – 6 December), he would mention the fruitful meeting held last year in Bari on “The Mediterranean as a Frontier of Peace.” He further noted that the meeting will be followed by another next year in Florence which is currently being planned for.
Concluding, the Holy Father expressed hope that these ecclesial events and the exchanges during the conference can draw inspiration from the “Mediterranean Discussions” organized by Giorgio La Pira (an Italian politician who served as the Mayor of Florence) in the 50’s and 60’s of the last century.
Thanks to the growth of a politics of dialogue, the Pope said, “the opposite shores of the sea were brought closer around what La Pira considered, from a perspective of faith, as a great sea of Tiberias.”