A tireless Pope, ever more determined to invoke prayer, dialogue and peace in the world. So it will be in Bari, Saturday, July 7, on the occasion of an ecumenical gathering of great significance, as explained to SIR by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
“This event, held in a city that symbolizes openness towards the East, is a prophetic gesture wanted by Pope Francis, who on countless occasions made appeals for Christians in the Middle East and persecuted Christians. This prophetic gesture is shared with other heads of Christian Churches in the Middle East, Catholics and Orthodox alike. The relics of Saint Nicholas, venerated by Orthodox Christians, are preserved in Bari and the prayer on the Saint’s grave has great ecumenical bearing.”
Your Eminence, will Pope Francis strongly re-launch from Bari what could be described as the diplomacy of prayer?
Prayer and prophecy are the weapons of the Church
Prayer will be the main theme of the meeting because the destiny of the peoples, world peace, and the future of the Church in the Middle East are in the hands of God. The event in the capital of the Apulia region will serve to reflect and pray for Christians in the Middle East and in Jerusalem – “Peace be within you!” as in the Psalm quoted by the Pope – and it is meant as an appeal to the whole world on the living conditions of our brothers and sisters. The ecumenical prayer is extremely significant for Christians brethren who have suffered and continue to suffer because of war and persecution. Catholic Patriarchs from Middle Eastern countries and high religious dignitaries from cities like Aleppo, symbol of martyrdom, persecution, and Christian witness, at a time of never-ending war, will convene in Bari.
Many of these Christians have lived the faith at the cost of their own life…
In Bari we will remember them all, all those who were killed, abducted, the many who are still missing.
The heads of the Churches attending the meeting will be symbolically supported by all the communities of faithful, by priests and bishops who have died during the past years of war, as Msgr. Faraj Rahho, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul kidnapped and found dead in 2008. In particular, I wish to remember the many people who went missing and nothing was heard of them since, the two bishops of Aleppo, Syrian Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek Orthodox archbishop Paul Yazigi, kidnapped on 22 April 2013, Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, and many more priests and lay people who gave their own lives. They will all be present and remembered in Bari.
What is the greatest affliction of Christians in the Middle East today?
It’s the fact of being attacked in their dignity as human persons, stripped of everything, of their home, of their family, exposed to insecurity, attacked by hatred and divisions to the point of wanting to leave in order to seek a future of hope abroad.
A tribulation that is not only physical and that has affected everyone, including the Muslim population.
With the gesture in Bari the Pope wishes to express to our brothers the closeness, love and the sharing of their suffering, and thus respond to feelings indifference towards those who are discarded, persecuted, and swept aside.
Which message will the meeting Bari send to the International community?
Bari will also represent an appeal to all those truly responsible for world peace: that they make take decisions regardless of national and particular interests, decisions for the good of the human person made in God’s image and likeness.
Wars and persecutions in the Middle East bring flows of people into Europe and Italy is one of those havens mentioned earlier, which now risks being closed…
We must always be welcoming and know that everything we are doing for these brothers in difficulty we are doing to Jesus. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. Never say “enough.”
Government leaders have the responsibility to find the right ways.
Openness and hospitality – combined with caution and with the determination to ensure the integration of these people according to the possibilities of the places of arrival – are concretized through the adoption of reasonable measures for all those involved.
The Pope has called upon everyone “to accompany this pilgrimage of unity and peace” with their prayers.
Let us join in the Pope’s appeal, whether we are at work or on vacation, we should ask ourselves: insofar as I can in my small way, how can I contribute to help those who are suffering? The first thing to do is to pray, followed by concrete help that can be offered in our cities with acts of solidarity and hospitality towards our brothers and sisters who are arriving here to us.