An Italian bishop has said that the forthcoming ‘Mediterranean Synod’ in Bari in February will aim to transform the “sea of death” into a “welcoming haven”.

Driving the news

Antonino Raspanti, the Bishop of Acireale and Vice-President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), spoke to SIR January 13 ahead of the “Mediterranean, frontier of peace” event with Pope Francis and bishops from around the region sponsored by the CEI from February 19-23.

“There appears to be deep interest in the meeting, especially following the adverse events of the last few weeks”, Raspanti said, referring to the deaths of 63 migrants in the Mediterranean already in the first two weeks of 2020.

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Bishop Raspanti, who is also the coordinator of the organizing committee for the Bari event, outlined the first priority the bishops will tackle in their meeting: what the Pope calls “theology in context”.

“The Mediterranean can be a theatre of war or a space for unity, a place where migrations are linked to the quest for personal dignity or, on the contrary, a place where human rights are trampled on or derided. A sea of death or a welcoming haven”, Raspanti explained.

Why it matters

Migration won’t be the only theme the bishops will be working on, the prelate continued, and that much not only in the spirit of synodality so dear to Francis but also out of “the inspiration to practice theology… from experience, from the ability to come into contact with Christian life in the various contexts and territories”.

“In Bari, in harmony with the Holy Father’s indications, we wish to create a shared model of thought, with a view to making our contribution to a number of problems requiring our attention, but also to give new impetus to evangelization, to the peace process, to the transmission of the faith, with all its difficulties”, Raspanti explained.

The bishop added that “the message coming from Bari is intended to involve not only the ecclesial community, but society as a whole”.

For the record

Another bishop who has spoken out recently on the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean has been CEI President Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, who at a preparatory event for the Bari meeting January 10 in Campobasso denounced that “the crisis of the Mediterranean is… the crisis of migrants consumed in the deafening silence of the sea waters”.

The migrant crisis is “a crisis of human rights: in particular, in camps and prisons, in Libya, in refugee camps in Turkey, in Greek islands such as Lesbos”, Bassetti deplored.

The cardinal decried the “strong… contradictions” between countries on the north and south sides of the Mediterranean, adding that “the frontier between the world of opulence and that of misery, between that of exclusion and that of inclusion, between those who produce and those who are discarded is still clearly visible”.

“The seriousness of the crises that run through the Mediterranean area refers, first of all, to an economic imbalance that too often multiplies inequalities and feeds divisions and social hatreds”, Bassetti further warned, explaining that “the economic inequalities that exist between the two sides of the Mediterranean are huge”.

For that reason, “it is no longer possible to argue that the conflicts in Libya or Syria do not concern us. This is a tremendous mistake with potentially catastrophic consequences”, the cardinal cautioned.

Bassetti urged the Church, politicians and civil society organisations to remember Pope Paul VI’s famous dictum that “development is the new name for peace”, but also that “development… can never be harmonious and fair if particularistic and selfish visions continue to thrive”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.