On Sunday, February 27, Pope Francis is due to visit Florence on the last day of the Meeting of Mediterranean Bishops and Mayors, which will focus on key issues for cities, towns and communities bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
The Pope’s last visit to Florence was six years ago when he attended the Fifth National Convention of the Italian Episcopal Conference. On that occasion, he gave a speech that outlined a forward-looking programme for the Italian Church.
Confirming the visit on February 27, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, expressed “deep gratitude” to the Pope for “for this attention towards the initiative that involves the ecclesial and civil communities of the Mediterranean. As previously occurred at the meeting held in Bari in 2020, the Pope not only blesses the initiative, but also puts his seal on it, assuring his participation on the final day.”
The pontiff’s programme sees him land at the “Luigi Ridolfi” athletics stadium, in Campo di Marte, at 8am on February 27. At 8.30am, the Pope will meet the bishops and mayors in the Salone dei Cinquecento at the Palazzo Vecchio before delivering a speech and then meeting some of the mayors in the Sala Leone X. He will meet refugee families in the Sala d’Arme at 9.30am before moving to the Basilica of Santa Croce to celebrate the holy Mass at 10.30am, after which the Pope will lead the Angelus outside the church.
The Florence meeting will pursue the reflections made in Bari. “Rebuilding bonds that have been strained, restoring cities destroyed by violence, making gardens blossom where there is currently dried-up land, spreading hope to those who have lost it and encouraging those who have closed themselves off not to fear their brothers,” explained Cardinal Bassetti. “The challenges we are called upon to tackle are an incentive to overcome the hurdles that the Mediterranean faces and to intensify the meeting and communion between sister Churches. Only by weaving fraternal relations is it possible to encourage the integration process. In Florence, we will start over to ensure that the shores of the Mediterranean return to being a symbol of unity and not of borders.”
“The Holy Father honours the diocese and the city with his presence for the third time,” said Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence and former secretary general of the Italian Episcopal Conference. “We are grateful to him and, at the same time, we feel a special responsibility. The Pope will be among us, the direct heirs of the endeavours and commitment to brotherhood among peoples of the Venerable Giorgio La Pira, the ‘Saintly Mayor’. Like him, we want to be bearers of hope so that the Mediterranean shores are united, not separated, again.”
The conference will take place from February 24 to 27, simultaneously with the Convention of the Italian Episcopal Conference “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace”, bringing together bishops from all the Churches on the various Mediterranean shores. The Mayors’ Conference will unite 100 mayors from northern Africa to the Middle East, Greece, the Balkans, France and Spain.
“For the first time in history, 100 mayors from the most important cities in the Mediterranean will meet for three days in Florence in a collective commitment to peace, the environment, cooperation for development and social inclusion,” explained Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence. “This meeting will culminate in dialogue with bishops from the Churches of the Mediterranean and meeting the Pope. More than 50 years since the meeting of the capital cities and dialogue of the Mediterranean championed by Giorgio La Pira at the Palazzo Vecchio, now a new chapter is about to be written with the extraordinary attendance of the Holy Father.”
“The Mediterranean has never known conflict, persecution, civil war, environmental disasters and mass migration as in these times,” continued Nardella. “In February, the voice of 100 cities, from Istanbul to Rome and Tunis will sound loud and clear from Florence, opening a new era around the sea where the oldest civilizations and three Abrahamic religious communities were born. With the cities’ diplomacy and the Pope’s strength, we will complete Mayor La Pira’s plans to restore peace and prosperity to the Mediterranean.”
For more information about the papal visit, see www.mediterraneodipace.it.