In Florence, mayors and bishops of the Mediterranean upset by Ukraine



For weeks they had planned to go to Florence. Mayors and bishops from around the Mediterranean met from February 23 to 27 in the capital of Tuscany to discuss the challenges of their region.

Two years after a first meeting of bishops in Bari, it was for them to hammer out a message of peace and inclusion, to reiterate the importance of education and the fight against fanaticism around the Mare Nostrum. Until the outbreak of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, a few hours after the start of the discussions, upset the 150 people present, and their debates.

“We took this conflict as a slap in the face”

For three days, bishops and mayors exchanged alarming news, scrolling through their telephones the first images of the war, while talking about the necessary peace in the Mediterranean, under the coffered ceiling of the Salle des Cinq-Cents, in the heart of the Palazzo Vecchio. days “marked by fear” and by “an unacceptable act of violence”noted the mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, whose city has been twinned with Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, since 1977.

→ MAINTENANCE. War in Ukraine: “We thought that peace had become the natural state of Europe”

A sentiment expressed by one of the participating bishops: “We took this conflict as a slap in the face. I never thought I would see a war in Europe…” On Saturday, at the podium, Benjamina Karic, the mayor of Sarajevo – a city besieged between 1992 and 1996 by the Yugoslav army – noted, upset: “After Sarajevo, we said that this should never happen again in Europe. But 30 years later, it’s starting again. » And Mgr Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille added, still about Sarajevo: “A city has a soul. You can bomb a city, you can’t kill its soul.

For a solution of “dialogue”

“The first hours, I wondered what sense it had to continue to talk about peace, between us, just when part of Europe was on fire. We were all amazed”candidly admits Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. “While our ways of doing things, between the north and south of the Mediterranean, can be very different, our first movement was to look in the same direction: towards Ukraine”summarizes Mgr Jean-Paul Vesco, the bishop of Algiers.

The attack in Ukraine also came to resonate painfully with the ongoing tensions in the Mediterranean region. Some, like the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, also see it as a reminder of situations experienced a few years ago.

“We are in a region where conflicts are everywhere: in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen… This shows us that the conflict can spread very quickly. I observe in Ukraine the same scenario as that which occurred in Iraq, when the Americans intervened to change the government in place by an even worse regime! » Like many, the Iraqi cardinal pleads for a solution of “dialogue” not the use of weapons.

“Preserving justice” and “strengthening brotherhood”

Weapons and their distribution were also discussed in the corridors of the Florentine palaces during these few days. “Let the guns be silent! »launched Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the president of the Italian Episcopal Conference. “In history, weapons have never solved a single problem, he continued. Stop the madness of war! »

In their joint declaration, signed on Saturday February 26, mayors and bishops pleaded for a “step up” of their ” collaboration “ in cities around the Mediterranean, “in order to preserve justice, strengthen brotherhood and respect for all citizens and cultural and religious communities “.

→ THE FACTS. Ukraine: French and European bishops call to pray for peace

In this Mediterranean, “historic crossroads of European and Western Asian cultures, of the Northern and Southern hemispheres”they highlighted the need to “strengthen the bonds of brotherhood that exist in our region” in progress “more opportunities for dialogue and constructive encounters between different cultural and religious traditions”.

Is this one more statement? There is a part of“utopia”assumed by Cardinal Cristóbal López Romero, Archbishop of Rabat, Morocco: “We want to highlight the utopia of a zone that is moving towards peace, he explains. We do not live in a quiet basin: there are conflicts all around the Mediterranean. But at least we are doing something to walk towards peace. »

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