FLORENCE, Italy (CNS) — Bishops and mayors from cities around the Mediterranean gathered to talk about migration, peace, development and the promotion of human rights, but war broke out in Ukraine and overshadowed their discussions.
Benjamina Karic, the 31-year-old mayor of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, was at the meeting in Florence. Her city has become the symbol of the last war fought in Europe — the 1991-95 Balkans war. Karic, speaking on Italian television Feb. 26, offered prayers for the people in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, especially for the frightened children huddled in shelters as the fighting continued.
The “Mediterranean for Peace” meeting opened in Florence Feb. 23 before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his offensive. The gathering brought together 60 bishops from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa for their own meeting and for joint discussions with 65 mayors from cities in 20 countries around the Mediterranean basin.
Pope Francis had been scheduled to address the bishops and mayors at the conclusion of their meeting Feb. 27 and to celebrate a Mass in Florence, but he canceled his trip after his doctors prescribed rest for severe knee pain.
Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, celebrated the Mass instead, leading prayers for Pope Francis and, especially, for an end to what he described in his homily as “an unjust and useless war.”