“Peace be upon you! Christians together for the Middle East”, is the motto of the official visit to Bari of Pope Francis for the ecumenical meeting for prayer in the Middle East scheduled for July 7. In the city of the Apulia region, which preserves the relics of Saint Nicholas, the Holy Father and the Heads of the Churches and Christian Communities of the Middle East will reflect on and pray for the tragic situation in the Middle East that “afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith.” The Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton – shepherd of some 300 religious, who carry out their service in cooperation with some one hundred men and women religious representing a number of congregations in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and Rhodes – highlighted the importance of the event in an interview with SIR. This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land.
“Gathering in prayer is the most significant act of the Christian faithful: incessantly offering our prayers to God is what Christians have always done in difficult times, trusting in the mysterious works of God that operate in ways that are different from those of humankind.” By “bringing together all the heads of Christian and Catholic Churches – said the Custos – this ecumenical prayer transmits not only the image but also the substance of a Church that in many ways is already united. The founding principle is Christians’ firm belief in the force of prayer.”
This is not the first time that Pope Francis promotes a prayer meeting, it already happened on September 7 2013 when His Holiness called for a Day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, culminated in the prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square. It is largely believed that the initiative prevented an escalation of the conflict…
The Day in 2013, just like the meeting in Bari, raise public and media awareness on the situation in the Middle East. At the same time, it involves inherent requests to government leaders and to all those committed in the promotion of peace.
Bari is also meant as an exhortation to the international community to take responsibility for the tragic developments in the Middle East.
The motto “Peace be upon you!”, drawn from the Psalm 122, offers to reflection and prayer the figure of Jerusalem, a Holy City for the three faiths, referred to as the City of Peace. But today it appears to have become a place of conflict and a hotbed of tensions and divisions…
The religious significance of Jerusalem is extraordinary and it extends beyond its geographic borders. This feature makes it remarkably fascinating, inevitably complex and sometimes also confrontational. Jerusalem could become – spiritually speaking – a place of coexistence, of conviviality and of increasing harmony among the Abrahamic religions. But this can only happen through prayer. Jerusalem is THE place of prayer: we realize it at the Wailing Wall, at the Al Aqsa Mosque and at the Holy Sepulchre, where all the faithful gather for the encounter with God.
Only through the encounter with God will mankind learn mutual encounter.
Beholding the heavens helps us find the place for encounter that goes far deeper than simply agreeing on two or three issues. What I mean to say is that
We should not be content with the political dimension that divides. We should be directed towards the spiritual dimension that enables us to experience encounter.
Will the meeting in Bari serve to give new impetus to role of Christianity as a bridge connecting the different religious faiths?
Bari can become a sign and a reminder for the Churches of the Middle East to strengthen unity for the purpose of constructive contribution. Prayer brings about determined union and action for peace, dialogue and encounter, in spite of those who claim that these are utopian dreams. As a Franciscan I firmly believe that St. Francis was a great dreamer, but in this ability to dream he was gifted with deep realism and common sense. The meeting between St Francis and the Sultan Malek al-Kamil in Damietta, in September 1219, marked by kindness, dialogue and respect, testifies to it. The Saint of Assisi succeeded in establishing a point of contact, which paved to the way to the peaceful, centuries-old Franciscan presence.
Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a Decree regarding the “heroic virtues of the Servant of God Giorgio La Pira.” This issuing of the decree coincides with the prayer vigil for peace in Bari, that peace of the “sons of Abraham” that the former mayor of Florence dreamt of. Is this also a sign?
We need dreamers-prophets like La Pira.
We need people who don’t limit themselves to see the present but who see it with the eyes of God. By doing so they open doors that bear fruits. La Pira took brave decisions because he saw reality with the eyes of God. His deep-rooted spirituality guided his political life. La Pira is an example of how the political realm should view the common good , shunning particular interests. It’s a lesson that extends to the Middle East and beyond.