Marseille (France), a city which is a mosaic of peoples and cultures, was the backdrop to the recent “Recontres Méditerranéennes”. It was an event that, through dialogue, traced new pathways of hope for the future.

At the General Audience of 27th September 2023, Pope Francis focused his meditation on his recent Apostolic Journey to Marseille, for the conclusion of the “Rencontres Méditerranéennes” (Mediterranean Meetings) that took place from 17th-24th September 2023. He said:

Foto: © Chiara Barbaccia

“What came out of the Marseille event? What came out is an outlook on the Mediterranean that I would call simply human, not ideological, not strategic, not politically correct nor instrumental; no, human, that is, capable of referring everything to the primary value of the human person and his or her inviolable dignity. Then, at the same time, a hopeful outlook came out.”

It was a real “Mosaic of hope” as the title of the event, organized by the Archdiocese of Marseille, predicted. It involved Bishops, Mayors, religious leaders, theologians from the Mediterranean area together with young people from the five shores of the Mare Nostrum, in an open dialogue that looked to the future and its many challenges.

In the wake of the two previous meetings, Bari 2020 and Florence 2022, Marseille, with its history, its port and its multicultural and multi-religious essence, developed this theme through round tables, meetings of reflection and prayer, artistic and cultural performances of various kinds in order, as Pope Francis said in the Angelus of Sunday, 17th September, “to promote paths of peace, collaboration and integration around the mare nostrum, with special attention to the phenomenon of migration”.

Foto: © Chiara Barbaccia

This was one of the main issues in the debates among the young people present. For example, Chiara Barbaccia, the daughter of an Italian island, Sicily, gateway to Europe and a 28-year-old graduate in criminology who is preparing to become an educator in prisons told us: “At a time when we are bombarded by media communication that makes us feel contaminated, we are called not to forget that we are dealing with people who leave their country because they are forced to, not for fun. And we must also keep in mind the value of hospitality, the ace up our sleeves which keeps us human”.

These are words that do not remain ideas but that, if shared, take shape. Chiara was one of the 70 young people (25-30 years old) who, representing the Mediterranean and its many faces, met the Bishops of the five geographical areas of this Sea. It was a moment of interaction in a real synodal style. Chiara said, “I go to the parish of the Franciscan friars of Sant’Antonino in Palermo. I am here in Marseille, thanks to my friendship with the Focolare Movement in my city and because I want to share experiences and be enriched by others. The young people at the round table I attended came from Ukraine, Bosnia, the Holy Land and Algeria: a cross section of the many perspectives of the Mediterranean. I talked about my experience and about what we do for hospitality etc. What is missing for this sea to truly be the “nostrum” of everyone, of the community is the shared idea of the common good, the idea that everything that “moves” within it does not belong to one nation rather than to another but is a common heritage that must be valued and not “shipwrecked” or, worse still, sunk”.

From migration to the climate crisis, from integration to the geopolitical crisis and the violence of war, the voice of these new generations that have animated and colored the city of Marseille was strong. Young people are “lighthouses”, as the Pope said in his speech on 23rd  September, at the concluding session: “they are the light that indicates the way of the future” and it is important to ensure that they have spaces where they can “mature by encountering one another, coming to know one another and discovering cultures and contexts both near and diverse.”, This was the aim of the event  at the Oeuvre de jeunesse Joseph Allemand Saint Savournin, where many secondary school boys and  girls from the city, divided into groups and took part in the thematic “salons”, organised to discuss and share the challenges and projects of the Mediterranean. The animators came from many regions, in particular from Italy. There was also a group from the Focolare Movement. Each “salon” was a journey: in inclusion, respecting the diversity of other confessions, on the freedom of women in various cultures, in dance and in art, capable of breaking down barriers and a tool for hospitality. It was a journey towards raising awareness of the issue of the reconversion of the war industry, as told by the youth from WarFree – Lìberu dae sa gherra, an association that aims at an ethical reconversion of Sardinia (Italian island) through an economy of peace open to the world; a network of companies that offer themselves as an alternative to the industries that produce weapons and petrochemicals. They propose a new civil economy that offers decent work to the territory, favouring the intertwining of peace and sustainable development. Stefano Scarpa, one of Warfree’s associates, who has been involved in the project from the beginning, said, “These industries present on the Sardinian territory are the largest export of Sardinia and in a land where work is scarce, it is important that people know what they work for, who earns from these exports and what the consequences are. It is not just a question of Sardinia. For this reason, the Recontres Méditerranéennes are an opportunity. It would be nice to be able to talk not only about Mare Nostrum but about globality, about a constant dialogue that seeks similarities between the difficulties of each country and the answers”.

Maria Letizia Cabras, a young Sardinian from the Focolare Movement who collaborates with Warfree, added, “The Church plays a very important role in the regions and in dialogue with other Churches and other religions. This is where everyone’s participation should be encouraged so that a discourse at the territorial level is also applied at the ‘Mediterranean’ level, through projects and events involving all the different countries”.

Maria Grazia Berretta

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