Address of the Holy Father
Greeting to the faithful before the Basilica of Saint Nicholas
At 7.00 this morning the Holy Father Francis departed from the Vatican heliport for Bari, on the occasion of the meeting for reflection and spirituality entitled “Mediterranean: frontier of peace”, promoted and organised by the Italian Episcopal Conference and taking place from 19 to 23 February 2020.
Upon arrival in Piazzale Cristoforo Colombo in Bari, the Pope was received by Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto; the president of the Region of Apulia, the Honourable Michele Emiliano; the prefect of Bari, Antonio Bellomo; and by the mayor of the city, the Honourable Antonio Decaro. Immediately afterwards he transferred to the Pontifical Basilica of Saint Nicholas.
After the introduction by the president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, His Eminence Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, and the interventions by the Archbishop of Vrhbosna-Sarajevo and the president of the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina, His Eminence Cardinal Vinko Puljić, and the apostolic administrator “sede vacante” of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., titular of Verbe, the Holy Father pronounced his address.
At the end, after the words of thanks from Archbishop Paul Desfarges, S.J., of Alger, Algeria, president of the Regional Episcopal Conference of North Africa (CERNA), the Pope greeted the bishops participating in the meeting and proceeded to the crypt of the Basilica to venerate the relics of Saint Nicholas and to greet the Community of Dominican Fathers.
Then, upon leaving the Basilica, the Pope addressed a greeting to the faithful who awaited him outside. He subsequently transferred by popemobile to Corso Vittorio Emanuele II for the Eucharistic Concelebration.
The following are the Holy Father Francis’ address, given during the meeting for reflection and spirituality “Mediterranean: frontier of peace”, and his impromptu greeting to the faithful before the Basilica of Saint Nicholas:
Address of the Holy Father
I am pleased that we can meet you and I am grateful that each of you has accepted the invitation of the Italian Episcopal Conference to take part in this meeting, which assembles the Churches of the Mediterranean. In looking around this Church [the Basilica of St. Nicholas], I think of another meeting, our meeting with the Heads of the Christian Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, here in Bari. This is the second time in a few months that we have made a gesture of unity of this kind. That earlier meeting was the first time after the great schism that all of us were together, and this is the first meeting of bishops from around the Mediterranean. I think we could call Bari the capital of unity, of the unity of the Church – if Archbishop Cacucci will let us! Thank you for your welcome, Excellency, thank you.
When Cardinal Bassetti presented the idea to me, I readily accepted it, seeing it as an opportunity to begin a process of listening and discussion aimed at helping to build peace in this crucial part of the world. For that reason, I wanted to be present and testify to the importance of the new model of fraternity and collegiality that you represent. I like the word that you joined to dialogue: conviviality.
I find it significant that this meeting takes place in Bari, since this city is so important for its links with the Middle East and Africa; it is an eloquent sign of the deeply rooted relationships between different peoples and traditions. The Diocese of Bari has always fostered ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, working tirelessly to create bonds of mutual esteem and fraternity. I purposely chose Bari a year and a half ago, as I said, to meet leaders of Christian communities in the Middle East for an important moment of discussion and fellowship meant to help our sister Churches to journey together and feel closer to one another.
You have come together in this particular context to reflect on the vocation and future of the Mediterranean, on the transmission of the faith and the promotion of peace. The Mare nostrum is the physical and spiritual locus where our civilisation took shape as a result of the encounter of diverse peoples. By its very configuration, this sea forces surrounding peoples and cultures to constant interact, to recall what they have in common, and to realise that only by living in concord can they enjoy the opportunities this region offers, thanks to its resources, its natural beauty and its varied human traditions.
In our own day, the importance of this area has not decreased in the wake of the process of globalisation; on the contrary, globalisation has highlighted the role of the Mediterranean as a crossroads of interests and important social, political, religious and economic currents. The Mediterranean remains a strategic region whose equilibrium has an impact on the other parts of the world.
It could be said that the size of the Mediterranean is inversely proportional to its importance, to see it more as a lake than an ocean, as Giorgio La Pira once said. Defining it as “the great Sea of Galilee”, he drew an analogy between Jesus’ time and our own, between his milieu and that of the peoples of our time. Just as Jesus lived and worked in a context of differing cultures and beliefs, so we find ourselves in a multifaceted environment scarred by divisions and forms of inequality that lead to instability. Amid deep fault lines and economic, religious, confessional and political conflicts, we are called to offer our witness to unity and peace. We do so prompted by our faith and membership in the Church, seeking to understand the contribution that we, as disciples of the Lord, can make to all the men and women of the Mediterranean region.
The transmission of the faith necessarily draws upon the heritage of the Mediterranean region. That heritage has been fostered, preserved and kept alive by Christian communities through catechesis and the celebration of the sacraments, the formation of consciences, and individual and communal hearing of the Lord’s word. Specifically, thanks to popular piety, the Christian experience has taken on a form both meaningful and enduring: popular devotion is for the most part the expression of straightforward and authentic faith. Here I often like to cite that gem which is No. 48 of the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi on popular piety, where Saint Paul VI prefers, in place of “religiosity”, to speak of “popular piety”, pointing out both its richness and its shortcomings. That passage should guide us in our proclamation of the Gospel to the peoples.
In this region, one deposit of remarkable potential is its art, which combines the content of the faith with cultural treasures and beautiful artworks. This heritage continues to attract millions of visitors from every part of the world and must be carefully preserved as a precious legacy received “on loan”, to be handed on to future generations.
In the light of all this, the preaching of the Gospel cannot be detached from commitment to the common good; it impels us to act tirelessly as peacemakers. The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups. Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises.
War, by allocating resources to the acquisition of weapons and military power, diverts those resources from vital social needs, such as the support of families, health care and education. As Saint John XXIII teaches, it is contrary to reason (cf. Pacem in Terris, 114; 127). In other words, it is madness; it is madness to destroy houses, bridges, factories and hospitals, to kill people and annihilate resources, instead of building human and economic relationships. It is a kind of folly to which we cannot resign ourselves: war can never be considered normal, or accepted as an inevitable means of settling differences and conflicts of interest. Never.
The ultimate goal of every human society is peace; indeed, we can affirm once more that “in spite of everything, there is no real alternative to peacemaking” (Meeting with Heads of Churches and Christian Communities in the Middle East, Bari, 7 July 2018). There is no reasonable alternative to peace, because every attempt at exploitation or supremacy demeans both its author and its target. It shows a myopic grasp of reality, since it can offer no future to either of the two. War is thus the failure of every plan, human and divine. One need only visit a countryside or city that has been a theatre of war to realise how, as a result of hatred, a garden turns into a desolate and inhospitable landscape, how the earthly paradise turns into hell. Here I would also mention the grave sin of hypocrisy, when at international meetings many countries talk about peace and then sell weapons to countries at war. This can be called hypocrisy on a grand scale.
Peace, which the Church and every civic institution must always consider their first priority, has justice as its indispensable condition. Justice is trampled underfoot when the needs of individuals are ignored and where partisan economic interests prevail over the rights of individuals and communities. Moreover, justice is blocked by a throwaway culture that treats persons as if they were things, generating and promoting inequality. So much so that on the shores of this very sea there are some societies of immense wealth and others in which many people struggle simply to survive.
A decisive contribution to combating this culture is made by the countless charitable and educational works carried out by Christian communities. Whenever dioceses, parishes, associations, volunteer organisations – one of the great treasures of Italian pastoral care – or individuals strive to support those abandoned or in need, the Gospel becomes all the more powerful and attractive.
In the pursuit of the common good – another name for peace – we should employ the criterion pointed out by La Pira: to let ourselves be guided by the “expectations of the poor” (“Le attese della povera gente”, in Cronache sociali 1/1950). This principle, which can never be set aside for calculation or convenience, if taken seriously, enables a radical anthropological shift that makes everyone more human.
What use is a society of constant technological progress, if it becomes increasingly indifferent to its members in need? In preaching the Gospel, we hand on a way of thinking that respects each person by our unremitting effort to make the Church, the Churches, a sign of special care for the vulnerable and the poor. For “the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22) and “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).
In the Mediterranean region, these include all who are fleeing war or who have left their homelands in search of a humanly dignified life. The number of these brothers and sisters – forced to abandon their loved ones and their lands, and to face conditions of extreme insecurity – has risen as a result of spreading conflicts and increasingly dramatic environmental and climatic conditions. It is easy to anticipate that this phenomenon, with its momentous developments, will have an effect on the Mediterranean, for which states and religious communities must not be found unprepared. While countries experiencing this flow of migrants and countries to which they travel are affected by this, so too are the governments and Churches of the migrants’ countries of origin, which, with the departure of so many young people, witness the impoverishment of their own future.
We are aware that, in different social contexts, there is a growing attitude of indifference and even rejection that reflects the mentality, condemned in many of the Gospel parables, of those who, caught up in their own wealth and freedom, are blind to others who, by speaking out or by the very fact of their poverty, are pleading for help. Fear is leading to a sense that we need to defend ourselves against what is depicted in demagogic terms as an invasion. The rhetoric of the clash of civilisations merely serves to justify violence and to nurture hatred. The failure or, in any case, the weakness of politics, and factionalism are leading to forms of radicalism and terrorism. The international community has been content with military interventions, whereas it should have built institutions that can guarantee equal opportunities and enable citizens to assume their responsibility for the common good.
For our part, brothers, 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.
In the meantime, we can never resign ourselves to the fact that someone who seeks hope by way of the sea can die without receiving help, or that someone from afar can fall prey to sexual exploitation, be underpaid or recruited by gangs.
To be sure, acceptance and a dignified integration are stages in a process that is not easy. Yet it is unthinkable that we can address the problem by putting up walls. I grow fearful when I hear certain speeches by some leaders of the new forms of populism; it reminds me of speeches that disseminated fear and hatred back in the thirties of the last century. As I said, it is unthinkable that this process of acceptance and dignified integration can be accomplished by building walls. When we do so, we cut ourselves off from the richness brought by others, which always represents an opportunity for growth. When we reject the desire for fellowship present deep within the human heart and is part of the history of peoples, we stand in the way of the unification of the human family, which despite many challenges, continues to advance. Last week, an artist from Turin sent me a little wood-burned picture of the flight to Egypt with Saint Joseph, not the peaceful Saint Joseph we are used to seeing on holy cards, but Saint Joseph in the guise of a Syrian refugee bearing a child on his shoulders. It portrayed the pain and the bitter tragedy of the Child Jesus on the flight to Egypt. The same thing that is happening today.
The Mediterranean has a unique vocation in this regard: it is the sea of intermingling, “culturally always open to encounter, dialogue and mutual inculturation” (Meeting with Heads of Churches and Christian Communities in the Middle East, Bari, 7 July 2018). Notions of racial purity have no future. The message of intermingling has much to tell us. To be part of the Mediterranean region is a source extraordinary potential: may we not allow a spirit of nationalism to spread the opposite view, namely, that those states less accessible and geographically more isolated should be privileged. Dialogue alone enables us to come together, to overcome prejudices and stereotypes, to tell our stories and to come to know ourselves better. Dialogue is the word I heard today: conviviality.
Young people, too, represent a special opportunity. When they are provided the resources and possibilities they need to take charge of their own future, they show that they are capable of generating a promising and hope-filled future. This will only happen as the result of an acceptance that is not superficial but heartfelt and benevolent, practised by everyone at all levels, both the everyday level of interpersonal relationships and the political and institutional levels, and fostered by those who shape culture and bear greater responsibility in the area of public opinion.
For those who believe in the Gospel, dialogue is advantageous not only from an anthropological but also from a theological standpoint. Listening to our brothers and sisters is 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. Let us come to know the value of hospitality: “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:1).
We need to develop a theology of acceptance and of dialogue leading to a renewed understanding and proclamation of the teaching of Scripture. This can only happen if we make every effort to take the first step and not exclude the seeds of truth also possessed by others. In this way, the discussion of our various religious convictions can concern not only the truths we believe, but also specific themes that can become defining points of our teaching as a whole.
All too often, history has known conflicts and struggles based on the distorted notion that we are defending God by opposing anyone who does not share our set of beliefs. Indeed, extremism and fundamentalism deny the dignity of the human person and his or her religious freedom, and thus lead to moral decline and the spread of an antagonistic view of human relationships. This too shows us the urgent need of a more vital encounter between different religious confessions, one motivated by sincere respect and a desire for peace.
This encounter is spurred by the awareness, set forth in the Document on Human Fraternity signed at Abu Dhabi, that “the authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace; to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence”. Religious groups and different communities can cooperate more actively in helping the poor and welcoming immigrants, in such a way that our relationships are motivated by common goals and accompanied by active commitment. 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. Its opposite is what I felt when I went to Lampedusa, that air of indifference: on the island there was acceptance and welcome, but then, in the world, the culture of indifference.
Dear brothers, these are the hopes I wanted to share with you at the conclusion of our fruitful and consoling encounter in these days. I entrust you to the intercession of the Apostle Paul who was the first to cross the Mediterranean, facing dangers and hardships of every kind, in order to bring the Gospel of Christ to everyone. May his example show you the paths to pursue in the joyful and liberating task of handing on the faith in our own time.
I leave you with the words of the Prophet Isaiah, in the hope that they will provide you and your respective communities with hope and strength. Witnessing the destruction of Jerusalem after the exile, the prophet did not fail to look forward to a future of peace and prosperity: “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. And to look upon this [sea], which has already become a cemetery, as a place of future resurrection for the entire area. May the Lord accompany your steps and bless your work of reconciliation and peace. Thank you.
Greeting to the faithful before the Basilica of Saint Nicholas
Good morning, good morning to you all!
I would like to thank you, because I know you have helped, you are helping, with your prayers, the work of the pastors here. Thank you, because prayers are indeed the strength, the strength of a Christian community. The pastors pray, because they must work in these days of reflection. But they have felt accompanied and safe with your prayers. I thank you very much for this work, this apostolate of prayer, praying for the Church. Do not forget: pray for the Church, for the pastors… And in bad moments one prays even more, because the Lord must always come to solve problems.
Now I would like to give you my blessing, but first of all let us pray to Our Lady. She prayed a lot during her life. She prayed a lot, always, accompanying the Church.
And thank you, thank you very much!
Visit of the Holy Father Francis to Bari on the occasion of the Meeting for Reflection and Spirituality, “Mediterranean: frontier of peace” (19 to 23 February 2020) - Eucharistic Celebration and Recitation of the Angelus prayer
Homily of the Holy Father
Before the Angelus
At 10.45 this morning, in Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in Bari, the Holy Father Francis presided at the Eucharistic Celebration at the conclusion of the meeting of reflection and spirituality “Mediterranean: frontier of peace”, during which he delivered the homily.
At the end of the celebration, after the greeting and the words of thanks from Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto, the Pope led the recitation of the Angelus prayer with the faithful and pilgrims gathered there. He then transferred by car to Piazzale Cristoforo Colombo from where, at 12.50, he departed by helicopter to return to the Vatican.
The following are the homily delivered by the Pope during the Holy Mass and his words introducing the recitation of the Angelus:
Homily of the Holy Father
Jesus quotes the ancient law: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Mt 5:38; Ex 21:24). We know what that law meant: when someone takes something from you, you are to take the same thing from him. This law of retaliation was actually a sign of progress, since it prevented excessive retaliation. If someone harms you, then you can repay him or her in the same degree; you cannot do something worse. Ending the matter there, in a fair exchange, was a step forward.
But Jesus goes far beyond this: “But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil” (Mt 5:39). But how, Lord? If someone thinks badly of me, if someone hurts me, why can I not repay him with the same currency? “No”, says Jesus. Nonviolence. No act of violence.
We might think that Jesus’ teaching is a part of a plan; in the end, the wicked will desist. But that is not why Jesus asks us to love even those who do us harm. What, then, is the reason? It is that the Father, our Father, continues to love everyone, even when his love is not reciprocated. The Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45). In today’s first reading, he tells us: “You shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2). In other words: “Live like me, seek the things that I seek”. And that is precisely what Jesus did. He did not point a finger at those who wrongfully condemned him and put him to a cruel death, but opened his arms to them on the cross. And he forgave those who drove the nails into his wrists (cf. Lk 23:33-34).
If we want to be disciples of Christ, if we want to call ourselves Christians, this is the only way; there is no other. Having been loved by God, we are called to love in return; having been forgiven, we are called to forgive; having been touched by love, we are called to love without waiting for others to love first; having been saved graciously, we are called to seek no benefit from the good we do. You may well say: “But Jesus goes too far! He even says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who they persecute you” (Mt 5:44). Surely he speaks like this to gain people’s attention, but he cannot really mean it”. But he really does. Here Jesus is not speaking in paradoxes or using nice turns of phrase. He is direct and clear. He quotes the ancient law and solemnly tells us: “But I say to you: love your enemies”. His words are deliberate and precise.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is the Christian innovation. It is the Christian difference. Pray and love: this is what we must do; and not only with regard to those who love us, not only with regard to our friends or our own people. The love of Jesus knows no boundaries or barriers. The Lord demands of us the courage to have a love that does not count the cost. Because the measure of Jesus is love without measure. How many times have we neglected that demand, behaving like everyone else! Yet his commandment of love is not simply a challenge; it is the very heart of the Gospel. Where the command of universal love is concerned, let us not accept excuses or preach prudent caution. The Lord was not cautious; he did not yield to compromises. He asks of us the extremism of charity. This is the only legitimate kind of Christian extremism: the extremism of love.
Love your enemies. We do well today, at Mass and afterwards, to repeat these words to ourselves and apply them to those who treat us badly, who annoy us, whom we find hard to accept, who trouble our serenity. Love your enemies. We also do well to ask ourselves: “What am I really concerned about in this life? About my enemies, or about those who dislike me? Or about loving?” Do not worry about the malice of others. about those who think ill of you. Instead, begin to disarm your heart out of love for Jesus. For those who love God have no enemies in their hearts.
The worship of God is contrary to the culture of hatred. And the culture of hatred is fought by combatting the cult of complaint. How many times do we complain about the things that we lack, about the things that go wrong! Jesus knows about all the things that don’t work. He knows that there is always going to be someone who dislikes us. Or someone who makes our life miserable. All he asks us to do is pray and love. This is the revolution of Jesus, the greatest revolution in history: from hating our enemy to loving our enemy; from the cult of complaint to the culture of gift. If we belong to Jesus, this is the road we are called to take! There is no other.
True enough, you can object: “I understand the grandeur of the ideal, but that is not how life really is! If I love and forgive, I will not survive in this world, where the logic of power prevails and people seem to be concerned only with themselves”. So is Jesus’ logic, his way of seeing things, the logic of losers? In the eyes of the world, it is, but in the eyes of God it is the logic of winners. As Saint Paul told us in the second reading: “Let no one deceive himself... For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor 3:18-19). God sees what we cannot see. He knows how to win. He knows that evil can only be conquered by goodness. That is how he saved us: not by the sword, but by the cross. To love and forgive is to live as a conqueror. We will lose if we defend the faith by force.
The Lord would repeat to us the words he addressed to Peter in Gethsemane: “Put your sword into its sheath” (Jn 18:11). In the Gethsemanes of today, in our indifferent and unjust world that seems to testify to the agony of hope, a Christian cannot be like those disciples who first took up the sword and later fled. No, the solution is not to draw our sword against others, or to flee from the times in which we live. The solution is the way of Jesus: active love, humble love, love “to the end” (Jn 13:1).
Dear brothers and sisters, today Jesus, with his limitless love, raises the bar of our humanity. In the end, we can ask ourselves: “Will we be able to make it?” If the goal were impossible, the Lord would not have asked us to strive for it. By our own effort, it is difficult to achieve; it is a grace and it needs to be implored. Ask God for the strength to love. Say to him: “Lord, help me to love, teach me to forgive. I cannot do it alone, I need you”. But we also have to ask for the grace to be able to see others not as hindrances and complications, but as brothers and sisters to be loved. How often we pray for help and favours for ourselves, yet how seldom do we pray to learn how to love! We need to pray more frequently for the grace to live the essence of the Gospel, to be truly Christian. For “in the evening of life, we will be judged on love” (Saint John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, 57).
Today let us choose love, whatever the cost, even if it means going against the tide. Let us not yield to the thinking of this world, or content ourselves with half measures. Let us accept the challenge of Jesus, the challenge of charity. Then we will be true Christians and our world will be more human.