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During the meeting of the Coordination Committee of the Franciscan Network of the Mediterranean, we interviewed Br Francesco Zecca, OFM, of the Oikos Project and JPIC coordinator of COMPI (Conference of Minister Provincials of Italy and Albania).

Br Francesco, tell us about Oikos. Why the choice of Taranto?

Oikos originated in Taranto, in our friary, in an environmentally and socially wounded city. From there we want to start again and trigger a process on integral ecology not only for the city of Taranto, but for the whole Mediterranean. For five years now we have been collaborating with the Pontifical Antonianum University, the Taranto Chamber of Commerce, a group of entrepreneurs and a group of young lay people who have been working on civil economy for 10 years: this has triggered a process on integral ecology that can be a model for other contexts. From a place that has been socially, environmentally and economically wounded and “violated”, an alternative proposal for a different economy, a different culture, which is not only for the city but for the entire Mediterranean, can be launched. In 2026 the Mediterranean Games will be held in Taranto: this is a good opportunity to trigger a different culture and a different way of thinking.

Doesn’t the industrial model of the Ilva steelworks seem obsolete in the 21st century?

Ilva continues to produce, but not at the same pace as in the past: while it used to produce 8 million tonnes of steel a year, it now produces three million, so it is in underproduction, not least because the process is still ongoing, and some plants have been seized. It is a very complex situation, because we are talking about an industry that is two and a half times the size of the city, redundancies are continuing, and many workers are already laid off. There is a social problem as well as an environmental one, but there is a city that is trying to give alternatives to big industry. Big industry in the 20th century was presented as the miracle of southern Italy, but it turned out to be a big bluff, because it did not enhance the territory, on the contrary! Suffice it to think how the city has lost its link with its sea. We must therefore re-establish this link with the sea, recover the entrepreneurial capacity in young people that has been destroyed, and make paths to enhance the territory, culture, and the story of small business.

It is often said that “you either die of hunger, or you die of pollution”. What do you think of this combination?

Unfortunately, for many years Ilva was the only source of work for thousands of people. When I talk about the need to trigger a new entrepreneurial mentality I am talking about precisely this: if business generates income but is not attentive to life, it is not real business. The risk is that we continue with old industrial policies, which are not those of integral ecology. This is why we need to start from Taranto to say that we need a different vision, which does not only concern that city: it is a global problem on how to connect enterprise, society, environment and health, on how to hold things together. It is a problem of integral ecology, of a different outlook and culture.

The meeting of the Franciscan Mediterranean Network takes place a few weeks after the tragedy of the migrants in Cutro (KR, Italy). My personal impression is that today we are more moved by the photo of an abandoned kitten than by such tragedies. What is your impression?

When Pope Francis was elected, the first trip he made was to Lampedusa, a few days after a tragedy at sea. There he spoke of the globalisation of indifference, which is a tragedy: I believe that it is a cultural problem that needs to be tackled seriously, we need to change the model of thinking that envisages first-division lives and second-division lives, lives that are not worthy of mourning, that can die and that cannot even be mourned, that are reduced to being a code or a number. What the Pope has triggered over the last 10 years with his journeys in the Mediterranean, with the document on human brotherhood, with the two encyclicals, Laudato si’ and Fratelli Tutti, and thus with the construction of the Mediterranean as a “Common Home”, can become the hallmark of all this: how to transform these waters of death into waters of brotherhood.

How do the Franciscans respond to this appeal?

We Franciscans are present in almost all the countries of the Mediterranean, but we need to move from a local commitment to a more global vision that connects all the groups involved. This means working together, changing structures that perhaps no longer respond to today’s needs. History asks us to do this: in 10 years, 25,000 people have died in the Mediterranean: this cannot leave us indifferent, it must challenge us and trigger pathways that are not just assistance to those people, but must help deactivate processes that are criminal. We must promote the language of peace, of dialogue, of fraternity.

You are not alone in this process.

No, there has been a lot of work and collaboration also with Muslims. A few days ago here in Rome an energy community agreement was signed between the General Curia of Rome, the Grand Mosque and the Pontifical Antonianum University, but behind it there is a lot of collaborative work also with the Pontifical Marian Academy. The role of Mary, who connects and unites Christians and Muslims, tells us that the role of women can also be thought of differently. Indeed, Mary is the gateway to rethinking the role of women, which is one of the tragedies of so many countries in the Middle East or North Africa.

The Oikos Project (“home” in Greek) involves universities, businesses, monasteries, youth, culture, to truly make the Mediterranean a “common home”.

It is important to trigger networks between all these entities: with the monasteries of the Poor Clares, who have a contemplative look at reality, we are creating a network of Marian shrines throughout the Mediterranean, to trigger networks of peace dialogue in even complicated places like Lebanon. We are working on how to create groups of young people educated in the “common home” through a musical tour in 10 Mediterranean cities, with the collaboration of Giovanni Caccamo. A group of young people has already been set up in Taranto, which is training on how to convert the classical enterprise into a new enterprise from the perspective of integral ecology: profit should not be the end, but the means to achieve the welfare of the community. We are collaborating with universities, at PUA there is already a diploma in Integral Ecology. It would be nice one day to have a change of mentality and, for example, to offer young people the possibility of a Mediterranean Erasmus, which would change the vision of the Mediterranean from a frontier, from a sea of death to a place of encounter and fruitful mutual exchange.

Melania Bruno
OFM Communications Office