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Honourable Senator Francesco Maria Amoruso,
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have the honour, on behalf of His Holiness Pope Francis, to address the following words to the Ninth Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean. I am pleased to express the gratitude of the Holy See for the kind invitation to participate as an Observer at this meeting, as it has done so on previous occasions. The Holy See, for its part, welcomes the opportunity to give its support to the primary goal of this assembly of Parliamentary representatives from the Mediterranean region, namely, the promotion of political dialogue that is based on principles that are common to all traditions and cultures.

The Mediterranean region in these past few years has faced many challenges, from within and from without. These challenges are not confined within any one national border, indeed they are both transnational and transregional in character. No country can remain unaffected by conditions in other countries and, similarly, the Mediterranean region, affected by crises within, is not immune to the effects of crises in neighbouring regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. This is a reality that all of you already know, however, it is important to restate it to remind ourselves of the important objective of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean and why it was instituted.

Political instability in North Africa, particularly in Libya, and war and terrorism in Iraq and Syria, continue to present huge challenges to the Mediterranean region and we have all too sadly witnessed the immense cost of human suffering, particularly the countless lives lost through war and terrorism. It has also caused others to risk their lives to the merciless and unscrupulous acts of people traffickers and clandestine migration. Since the beginning of his pontificate Pope Francis has raised his concern on numerous occasions regarding this particular scourge. For example, during his recent address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 25 November last, in referring to the “boats landing daily on the shores of Europe ... filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance” he called for “a united response to the question of migration” so that the Mediterranean might not “become a vast cemetery!”. This united response necessarily involves the cooperation of Countries from both sides of the Mediterranean to address the fundamental causes of migration and thus the Holy Father urged the adoption of “fair, courageous and realistic policies which can assist the countries of origin in their own social and political development and in their efforts to resolve internal conflicts — the principal cause of this phenomenon” (Pope Francis, Address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 25 November 2014).

In his recent address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis forcefully returned again to the human tragedy of people obliged to flee their homelands because of war and political strife: “One consequence of the situations of conflict ... is the flight of thousands of persons from their homeland. At times they leave not so much in search of a better future, but any future at all, since remaining at home can mean certain death. How many persons lose their lives during these cruel journeys, the victims of unscrupulous and greedy thugs?” (Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 12 January 2015).

The war and violence in Syria, a member country of this Assembly, which has also enveloped neighbouring countries, continue to scar the Mediterranean region, not least through the arrival of refugees who are fleeing those conflicts, but also in ways that touch on the values and principles on which the societies which share the Mediterranean region are founded. The year 2014, unfortunately, saw the ugly and evil phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism strike at fundamental human rights: the right to life, religious freedom and freedom of expression. Such ideological fundamentalism knows no borders and makes victims of all, without regard to ethnicity or religious affiliation. The Holy See is particularly concerned for the survival of the Christian minorities in the Middle East, because they and other religious groups suffer disproportionately the effects of Islamic extremism. As Pope Francis reminds us “a Middle East without Christians would be a marred and mutilated Middle East!” (ibid.). At the same time, however, the Holy See recognises that Muslims, too, continue to suffer at the hands of those who justify violence and butchery in the name of God.

It is regrettable that it needs to be said that violence in God’s name can never be justified. However, each and every such act needs to be condemned unequivocally and for that reason Pope Francis has expressed his hope that “religious, political and intellectual leaders, especially those of the Muslim community, will condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence" (ibid.).

For millennia the Mediterranean has been the meeting place of cultures and peoples; in earlier times the peoples of the Mediterranean saw themselves as being at the centre of the world. The challenge remains for the Mediterranean to renew itself as a place of encounter, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. Despite “the defects and deficiencies of the present time” (ibid.) a brighter future is always possible through openness to others, dialogue and working for the common good. In this light, let me conclude my remarks with Pope Francis’ account of his visit to Albania last September: “I experienced an eloquent sign that the culture of encounter is possible during my visit to Albania, a nation full of young people who represent hope for the future. Despite the painful events of its recent history, the country is marked by the ‘peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions’, in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims. This is an important sign that sincere faith in God makes one open to others, generates dialogue and works far the good, whereas violence is always the product of a falsification of religion, its use as a pretext for ideological schemes whose only goal is power over others” (ibid.).

With my sentiments of esteem and respect, I convey to you the best wishes of His Holiness Pope Francis and his hope that the discussions and reflections of this Assembly may contribute to a new culture of encounter among all the peoples of the Mediterranean region.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Secretary of State of His Holiness