La Croix: Marseille is preparing to host the third gathering of bishops from the Mediterranean. What are the stakes of this meeting?
Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline: They are numerous, but we could bring them all together in the word communion. During the first two gatherings of bishops from around the Mediterranean, in Bari in February 2020 then in Florence in February 2022, I was able to measure the importance of being able to discuss between us about what marks the mission of the Church on each shore of the Mediterranean.
We were able to discuss the challenges that are common to us, although we experience them according to different realities, but also to become aware of the resources, which are also common to us, in this very particular geographical space. By knowing each other better, we were also able to forge bonds that are just waiting to develop. The Marseille meeting will make it possible to strengthen and even expand this communion in the service of the mission in the Mediterranean since we will be close to seventy bishops.
How was the choice of Marseille made?
Card. J-M A : Marseille is a typically Mediterranean port city. For a long time, it has learned to welcome all the cultures and religions that can exist in the Mediterranean and even beyond. During conversations that I had with Pope Francis, I was able to explain to him the originality of this city, its wealth and its poverty, and discuss with him the pastoral issues that we face and the way in which, humbly , we are trying to move forward. He understood that Marseille was on one of those outskirts that he likes, between Europe and the Mediterranean, gateway to the East and gateway to the West, marked both by a lot of poverty and also by a lot of hope.
For his part, the former president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Bassetti, who initiated the meetings in Bari and Florence, told me of his desire that the process could continue outside Italy. This is how, with his successor, Cardinal Zuppi, we came up with the idea of hosting these meetings in Marseille and the Pope assured me of his support and availability.
Will the issue of migrants be at the heart of your discussions?
The situation of migrants will obviously concern us throughout this week of discussions. The pope’s message for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which we will celebrate at the end of the week, on Sunday September 24, will guide our work. He emphasizes the importance not only of the freedom to emigrate, but also of the freedom to stay in one’s country. And the Pope explains the conversions necessary for this double freedom to be truly effective. We will have to think about it, and it seemed wise to us to invite a few bishops from sub-Saharan Africa.
But we do not want to isolate the issue of migratory flows from the other challenges that characterize the Mediterranean area: economic disparity and poverty, environmental and climatic issues, geo-politico-religious tensions and inter-religious dialogue. Throughout the week, we will have many opportunities to address these challenges and also to seek together the resources that can help us face them. Marseille, for all these questions, is a kind of laboratory, a very cosmopolitan microcosm where all the challenges I have just mentioned are present. A bit like John Paul II said of Lebanon, I have often thought that Marseille is more than a city: it is a message, a bearer of distress and hope at the same time.
Is there not also an interreligious challenge, which you are already experiencing in Marseille?
Yes of course. But it is not only a challenge, it is also an immense resource, since, faced with the same questions of existence, in particular those related to work, unemployment, family life or education of children, men and women of different religions take the risk of sharing their concerns and their hopes, weave bonds of trust, learn dialogue, foster friendship and promote fraternity.
This path is not easy, but I can testify that it exists and that it is greatly fruitful, while remaining humble and fragile. As the late Cardinal Tauran often said, religions are more part of the solution than the problem, as long as they do not allow themselves to be carried away by ideologies that exploit them.
What do you expect from the pope?
As Archbishop of Marseille, I observe that the announcement of his arrival has already generated immense popular enthusiasm, and I greatly rejoice about it. And since he has chosen, for this trip, to only come to Marseille, it is France which will come here to pray with him during mass at the Orange Vélodrome stadium. And in doing so, it will draw the attention of our entire country to the challenges of its Mediterranean coast.
Many associative, political, cultural, socio-educational actors, working in the Mediterranean, will be present during the week, in particular thanks to a magnificent festival open to all, and it is very important that the Church brings its contribution to this immense work. In addition, the bishops of France will be able to weave links with their brother bishops of all the dioceses of the Mediterranean, share their joys and their sorrows, listen together to the calls of the Spirit, commune in the mission and in hope. These are, in my eyes, the main issues of the Pope’s presence at these Mediterranean Meetings in Marseille!
Seventy bishops to debate for a few days: do they know each other well enough to lead these debates?
Some know each other, but not all. This is the reason why we will rely on a synodal method, in order to move forward together, meditating on the Word of God, listening to each other about the situation on each of our shores, trying to discern what what the Spirit is calling us, in particular by collecting the reflections of students and young professionals from around the Mediterranean, of all nationalities and all religions, who will also be present throughout this week.
We will be keen to formulate concrete proposals by exchanging our best practices; we will also try to give ourselves the means for a process of reflection and action for the years to come, at the service of the people of God entrusted to our ministry. The Mediterranean, “a mosaic in which each piece is necessary for the originality and beauty of the overall picture” (Pope Francis, Speech from Skopje, May 7, 2019), a space rich in many resources but weakened by multiple threats, is called to carry a message of hope for the Church and for the world. By bringing together all goodwill, the Marseille stage of the Mediterranean Meetings will try to draw a new mosaic of hope!