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Not just the sea of the three great monotheistic religions

Inconvenient theology from the Mediterranean

 La teologia scomoda  dal Mediterraneo  DCM-011
02 December 2023

Marseille, a city-port by the sea, resembles my city Palermo in Sicily, an island in the heart of the Mediterranean. Both cities are landing and welcoming places for so many migrants in search of a better life.

The Mediterranean encounters in Marseille were an opportunity for a discussion on the different migration stories heard, theological reflections and the intercultural dialogue experiences that resulted. For this reason, with professors representing the Theological Faculty of Sicily, together with theologians from the various Mare nostrum shores, we elaborated and signed the Manifesto for a Theology from the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean is not only the sea, on whose shores the three great monotheistic religions Islamism, Judaism and Christianity were founded, but the Mediterranean is also where the cities overlook its shores, cities that are increasingly hybrid and complex, where the different cultures and religions converge. We felt like theologians being questioned by the context of the Mediterranean. After all, it is not we who summon the context but it is the Mediterranean that compels us to listen to it and nails us to our ethical responsibilities to history. It speaks to us of an epochal change, of a new mestizo humanity that carries within itself certain values that are common to the experiences and lives of women. Instances of the generativity of a new way of doing theology starting from “the discarded” emerge from a confrontation. The Mediterranean Sea asks theology to be humble, “concrete”, not a laboratory but capable of crossing the streets of our cities, marginal neighborhoods and places of conflict, not neutral but capable of taking a stand on the side of the weakest, the vanquished of history. A frontier theology, with a transgressive approach to the logics of power and geopolitical hegemonies that create modern slavery, it is that Magnificat of Mary embodied in the Mediterranean Sea, in the wounds of the wars that cross its shores from the Gaza Strip to Syria to Lebanon and in so many other wars in the world, it is the Magnificat of women in tears for their children, from whom comes a loud cry for help and peace.

Sister Grace’s testimony is an essential passage of reflection. As a religious who lives and teaches in Lebanon, she calls for the need for a theology that overcomes “divorce with praxis,” and denounces the lack of universal rights and full citizenship in so many parts of the world, and that promotes social justice. She upholds that when there are no recognized rights there can be no interreligious and intercultural dialogue in reciprocity, but only asymmetrical relations of domination between one people and another, which result in violence and wars.

The word Mediterranean means “between lands”. The theology of “between” is capable of mediating conflicts, which knows how to listen, is not afraid of diversity, and welcomes it as lifeblood. Mediterranean women have matured a role of mediation that is a relational intelligence that sees them as protagonists from the grassroots and from within their contexts in building paths of peace.

At the Palais du Pharo, volunteers from Mediterranea Saving Humans recounted the difficult task of saving lives from shipwrecks and asked an uncomfortable question: what can theology do in the face of this genocide? Their testimony offers us the key to understanding that in the heart of the Mediterranean we are faced with the mystery of something greater than we are. To participate in the salvation history of God’s people by becoming evangelically and concretely “fishermen of men”.

Pope Francis’ words are unequivocal: the Mediterranean cannot be transformed “from the cradle of civilization to the grave of dignity”. The Mediterranean asks theology to put its hands in the wounds of those who suffer, such as the many women who have passed through the camps in Libya, who are victims of abuse and whose stories I treasure like precious pearls. Having arrived in our cities, they begin with difficulty to revive, they are reborn with their children and they reweave the threads of their lives. The concluding event of the Mediterranean Encounters was a celebration of borderless peoples who were capable of recognizing themselves in the beauty of diversity.  Pope Francis says, “Be a sea of good, to face today’s poverty with a synergy of solidarity; be a welcoming port, to embrace those seeking a better future; be a beacon of peace, to cleave, through the culture of encounter, the dark abysses of violence and war”.

by Anna Staropoli
A sociologist at the Pedro Arrupe Institute for Political Formation, Palermo