With peace in the Middle East as the goal, Pope Francis on Saturday hosted an ecumenical pilgrimage in the southern Italian city of Bari, attended by the representatives of Christian churches with a presence in the Middle East. Bari hosts the shrine of St Nicholas (Father Christmas) a saint revered both by Eastern and Western Catholics
The Christian leaders came together to pray for peace in a region that, due to ongoing conflicts and persecution, has seen the Christian population diminish year after year.
“The Middle East is one of the regions of the world where the situation of Christians is most precarious,” said Cardinal Kurt Koch of Switzerland, head of the Vatican’s office dedicated to promoting Christian Unity. He noted that while Christians represented 20 percent of the population in the region before World War I, today they are only four percent in this “martyred region.” As an example, in Iraq alone, the number of Christians has gone from 1.5 million in 2003 to an estimated 300,000 today.
According to Cardinal Koch, Christians will only remain in the region if peace is restored, and this is why the Catholic Church has been diplomatically working for a peace achieved through political agreements.
“It’s not possible to imagine a Middle East without Christians, not only for political reasons, but because they are essential for the equilibrium of the region,” he said.
Among the Christian leaders who answered Pope Francis’s call are the heads of Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Orthodox Church, members of Catholic Oriental churches, a representative for the Lutheran Church along with a representative for the Middle East Council of Churches. A majority of the 19 leaders attending are patriarchs or heads of churches with only five sending a representative.
Please remember this initiative in your prayers,