As Marseille awaits the arrival of Pope Francis for the Mediterranean Meetings, the Cardinal Archbishop of Rabat shares his hopes for the work of the ecumenical gathering which seeks to unite people in peace.
By Delphine Allaire – Marseille
Seventy Mediterranean bishops arrived in Marseille, southern France, to participate in the Mediterranean Meetings, seeking to discover paths of peace in the region surrounding what the ancient Romans called the Mare Nostrumor “Our sea”.
Before Pope Francis arrived in Marseille on Friday, Cardinal Cristobal Lopez Romero, archbishop of Rabat, Morocco, presided over the bishops’ opening mass in Marseille’s Sainte-Marie-Majeure cathedral on Thursday.
In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Lopez Romero shared his thoughts on the Mediterranean Meetings and the planned participation of Pope Francis in Saturday’s closing event.
Q: As archbishop of Rabat and president of CERNA, the conference of bishops of North Africa, what do you think of the Mediterranean Meetings in Marseille?
We, bishops of CERNA (Regional Episcopal Conference of North Africa), gave our faithful a pastoral letter eight years ago entitled “Servants of Hope”. These Meetings can be a source of hope.
The meetings in Bari, Florence and now Marseille have already made us realize that we all belong to the Mediterranean, despite our differences. This invites us to make the Mediterranean not a border of peace, but a peace without borders.
The first fruit of these meetings should therefore be to establish peace and grow in unity.
Q: What will you share with the other bishops gathered for these Meetings? What is your main concern?
First of all, we must be aware of our unity. What unites us is more important than what separates us. It is logical, because we are all bishops, sharing the same faith, Christ who pushes us. From this unity, we must contribute to peace and unity in the Mediterranean.
There are too many theaters of conflict and tension in this region, just think of the Balkans, Croatia and Serbia, Morocco and Algeria, Greece and Turkey, Israel and Palestine, without forgetting Syria, Iraq or Ukraine and Russia, which are all part of the conflict. of the Black Sea and therefore part of the Mediterranean.
We must consider that we are all brothers working for the common good, not the nationalist common good but the universal common good.
Why not look for a Mediterranean community? Why not increase collaboration between the North and South Banks and support for the Eastern and Middle Eastern Banks? I believe that peace and unity are the key words of our Mediterranean meetings.
Q: How do you see the migration crisis, which is becoming more and more pressing? From Tunisia to Italy, from Morocco to Spain, the question is complex. What can the Church do?
We are working hard on this issue. Sunday is World Migrants and Refugees Day, and this year’s theme is “Free to Migrate, Free to Stay.” Emigrating is a human right, but before this right to migrate, everyone also has the right to stay where they were born and where they developed their life.
The Church, in collaboration with governments and civil society, helps people to become aware of these rights and also to fight to be able to exercise them. Rights do not fall from the sky; we must claim them. They are the result of personal and community efforts.
Each country must think about how to deal with these migratory phenomena which do not constitute problems in themselves. The problems are war, political persecution and economic inequality. All these factors lead to a disorder in migration, which could become a permanent phenomenon in the history of humanity, an orderly, regular and positive issue.
Q: What do you think of Pope Francis’ Mediterranean pilgrimage, from Lampedusa in 2013, to Morocco, his country of origin in 2019, and to Marseille today, visiting a total of 17 countries bordering the Mediterranean?
This figure is already significant and carries a message. This means that the Pope recognizes the importance of this Mediterranean basin and that he is committed to it.
By coming to Bari, by now coming here to Marseille, and by supporting this whole process of Mediterranean Meetings. I hope that his presence here in Marseille will awaken many consciences.
Q: The protection of Christians on certain shores of the Mediterranean more than others and religious freedom are also at the heart of these meetings. How can we preserve this in the Mediterranean?
We Catholics represent only a small part of Mediterranean humanity. Later, we should launch calls for Mediterranean interreligious and ecumenical meetings, with Muslims and Orthodox.
It is not just about defending the rights of Catholics or Christians, but the rights of everyone to freedom of conscience and religious freedom.
Just as Catholics suffer in some countries, Muslims suffer in others and Jews are victims of anti-Semitism in some places. Religious freedom will never be achieved if religions do not work together for the common good.