Pope Francis told a conference taking place to promote closer ties across the Mediterranean region, and that he hoped their encounter would promote an even “more generous commitment to fostering a culture of acceptance and solidarity, and thus fostering peace and fraternity among peoples.”

The Diocese of Ugento-S. Maria di Lueca – located in Puglia, on the tip of the heel of the boot of Italy – hosted the “Mediterranean: Port of Fraternity” conference August 10-14.

The event, co-sponsored by the Sant’Egidio Community, is the second time the meeting has taken place. In 2016, they met under the theme “Mediterranean: A sea of bridges; not a sea of death.”

The conference took place at the Basilica of Santa Maria di Leuca, and this year included participants from the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), Caritas, Pax Christi, Focsiv (an Italian Christian service organization), and Migrantes (a migrant aid agency); as well as young people from over 30 countries.

In his message, Francis encouraged Christians, the youth of the Mediterranean region, and all people of good will to “consider the presence of migrants an opportunity for human growth, encounter and dialogue; as well as an opportunity to announce and witness to the Gospel of charity.”

Francis encouraged them in their good work, which culminated in the signing of the Charter of Lueca, which pledges the signatories’ willingness “to preserve, to reconstruct, and to bring together the bridges linking the countries of the Mediterranean.”

The document was originally published during the 2016 edition of the event, and taken to the pope on October 22.

The charter was for the creation of “new and wider humanitarian corridors” for those fleeing wars and conflicts; the enactment of clear regulations of the arms trade; and an investment in the development of the guarantee of people’s “right to remain in peace in their communities,” with a chance of hope for the future.

Italy has been a popular destination for those fleeing violence and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and other parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Over 180,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Italy in 2016 alone.

During his Angelus address on June 18, the week the United Nations marked World Refugee Day, Francis said “today more than ever, we have to support refugees.”

The pontiff noted the “stories of pain and hope” of women, men and children fleeing conflicts, persecution, and other forms of violence. He also offered prayers for those who died attempting the journey.

Francis said by sharing their stories, refugees can “dissipate distorted fears and ideologies, and help humanity to grow, and help give space to feelings of openness and the building of bridges.”