Pope Francis called on church leaders in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa to work for peace, to care for migrants and refugees, defend religious freedom, and promote inter-religious dialogue.
In his homily at the end of a five-day meeting to address common concerns of the church in the Mediterranean, the pontiff talked of love even among those behind the persecutions.
“Pray and love: this is what we must do,” said Pope Francis on Feb. 23 as he celebrated an outdoor Mass in central Bari, a city on the southern Italian coast.
“The love of Jesus knows no boundaries or barriers. The Lord demands of us the courage to have a love that does not count the cost, because the measure of Jesus is love without measure,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis spoke out against armed conflict and against populist leaders who stir up fear and hate towards migrants.
“The preaching of the Gospel cannot be detached from commitment to the common good; it impels us to act tirelessly as peacemakers,” said the pontiff.
In his talk, he pointed out that “the Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict.”
He denounced war that “diverts … resources from vital social needs, such as the support of families, health care and education.”
The gathering of at least 50 bishops was organized by the Italian Episcopal Conference.
In his talk, the pope said that historically the Mediterranean was “the physical and spiritual locus where our civilization took shape as a result of the encounter of diverse peoples.”
He said that even today, the Mediterranean “remains a strategic region whose equilibrium has an impact on the other parts of the world.”
“The ultimate goal of every human society is peace,” he told the gathering of church leaders.
In his homily, the pontiff did not directly address the themes of the meeting but focused on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew in which Jesus tells his followers not to retaliate against those who harm them and to love and pray for their enemies.
“Pray and love: this is what we must do,” the pope said.
“The love of Jesus knows no boundaries or barriers. The Lord demands of us the courage to have a love that does not count the cost, because the measure of Jesus is love without measure,” he added.
“The Lord was not cautious; he did not yield to compromises. He asks of us the extremism of charity. It is the only legitimate kind of Christian extremism: the extremism of love,” said Pope Francis.
In his talk, he urged the bishops to “speak out to demand that government leaders protect minorities and religious freedom.”
He said that “the persecution experienced above all — but not only — by Christian communities is a heart-rending fact that cannot leave us indifferent.”