Over 60 Bishops from around the Mediterranean region including Maltese Bishop George Bugeja of Libya, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea Curmi of Malta, Mgr Denys Antoine Chahda, Archbishop of Aleppo Syria and Cardinal Sako Louis Raphaël of Iraq gathered in Bari Italy from the 19th to 23rd of February 2020 for a conference on the theme, “Mediterranean: Frontier of Peace”.

The event was organised by the Italian Bishops’ Conference and brought together church leaders from North Africa to Italy, France, Spain, the Middle East, the Balkans, Malta, and Cyprus.

Pope Francis joined them on Sunday morning and offered words of encouragement and vision.

Speaking at the Conference, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Bishops Conference said the conference was initiated two years ago based on the 1960s model of Florence Mayor, Giorgio La Pira’s objectives that the Mediterranean must go back to being what it was; a meeting of civilisations, the development of Christianity and therefore a frontier of peace.

Topics discussed at the conference included “Delivering the Faith to Future Generations” and “Relationship Between Church and Society: Mobility, Citizenship, Religious Freedom, Inequality” through interventions from the Bishops, roundtable discussions and assemblies.

“I brought with me from Syria a heavy suitcase, full of suffering and fear” said Mgr. Youhanna Jihad Battah, Archbishop of Damascus, Syria.

 “The crisis in Syria is almost over as bombing of civilians, but an economic one has started. Above all, medicines are lacking and many people don’t eat unless we help them every month. The situation for the Syrian people is terrible. “, he explained.

Fr. Francesco Patton, custodian of the Holy Land opined that, “In the spirit of Abu Dhabi, we need to work together, even with Muslims and Jews, because religions can and must make a contribution of fundamental values ​​that can support the culture of peace”.

Speaking on the “desire for peace, reconciliation and forgiveness”, Msgr. Antonino Raspanti, Bishop of Acireale Italy said that “as Catholics we would like to be promoters of openings, of spaces, so that entities that do not communicate with each other today can come, sit, speak, reconcile and find mediations for greater justice which is the basis for fraternity and friendship”.

Concluding the Conference with a Mass on Sunday at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Pope Francis spoke from his heart addressing the issues…

 “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”.

In the face of this unfortunate situation, Pope Francis asked,

“If society becomes increasingly different to those in need, what good is its technological progress?”.

“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”.

On Saturday, an assembly was held for general conclusions that will be condensed into the final document, followed by the public event “In the Same Boat” at Teatro Petruzzelli.