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Gerard O’ConnellJuly 07, 2018
Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, right, release doves as they stand with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople outside the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy, July 7 (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

“Indifference kills, and we desire to lift up our voices in opposition to this murderous indifference,” Pope Francis said as he and 17 leaders of the Christian churches and communities in the Middle East met in the southern Italian city of Bari on July 7. The gathering was convened to pray for peace in the Middle East and to discuss what the Christian churches might do together to contribute to that goal.

“We want to give a voice to those who have none, to those who can only wipe away their tears. For the Middle East today is weeping, suffering and silent as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches,” the pope said at the beginning of the prayer service on the waterfront of this sea-port city. “On behalf of the little ones, the simple ones, the wounded and all those at whose side God stands, let us beg, ‘Let there be peace’!”

Participants came from the various Orthodox churches and the Eastern and Latin rite Catholic churches of the region. Among them were Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox churches; Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem; Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, representing Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia; the Lebanese cardinal Béchara Boutros Rai, Patriarch of the Maronites; the Egyptian Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Copts; the Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldeans; and Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Francis welcomed each of them individually in front of the basilica of St. Nicolàs, the bishop-saint who is greatly revered by Christians of both the East and the West, and then descended with them to the crypt to pray before relics of the saint. They then shared a prayer service under a covered platform on the Bari waterfront, where they listened to scripture readings and each one read a prayer for peace in the presence of 70,000 faithful.

At the beginning of the service, Pope Francis commented, “We feel drawn to live this day with minds and hearts turned towards the Middle East, the crossroads of civilizations and the cradle of the great monotheistic religions” from where “the light of faith spread throughout the world.”

Pope Francis: "A Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East.”

Indeed, “in the Middle East our very souls are rooted,” he said, but in recent years the region “has been covered by dark clouds of war, violence and destruction, instances of occupation and varieties of fundamentalism, forced migration and neglect.” He denounced the fact that “all this has taken place amid the complicit silence of many” and the region “has become a land of people who leave their own lands behind.”

Moreover, Francis said, “there is also the danger that the presence of our brothers and sisters in the faith will disappear, disfiguring the very face of the region. For a Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East.” Before World War I, (1914-1918), some 20 percent of the population of the Middle East was Christian; today it has decreased to around 4 percent.

After the prayer service, Pope Francis and the other Christian leaders returned to the Basilica of St. Nicolàs for a discussion behind closed doors on the situation in the Middle East today. After more than two hours of private conversation, the Christian leaders appeared again in front of the basilica, where Pope Francis delivered a hard-hitting talk.

He began by thanking them for “this graced moment of sharing” and for having “helped one another to appreciate anew our presence as Christians in the Middle East.” He reminded them that “this presence will be all the more prophetic to the extent that it bears witness to Jesus, the Prince of Peace,” who “does not draw a sword; instead, he asks his disciples to put it back in its sheath.”

Francis has visited the region on three different occasions, and today he reminded these Christian leaders that “the faith of the lowly, so deeply rooted in the Middle East, is the wellspring from which we can draw water to drink and to be purified. This is always the case whenever we return to our origins and go as pilgrims to Jerusalem, the Holy Land or the shrines of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and the other holy places in the region.”

Pope Francis: "Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many! No more occupying territories and thus tearing people apart!"

“It is essential that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests,” he continued. “Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many! No more occupying territories and thus tearing people apart! No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations! Let there be an end to using the Middle East for gains that have nothing to do with the Middle East!”

He denounced war as “the scourge that tragically assails this beloved region,” using war-torn Syria as an example. War, Francis said, can be defeated only “by renouncing the thirst for supremacy and by eradicating poverty.” He recalled too that “so many conflicts have been stoked too by forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism that, under the guise of religion, and have profaned God’s name—which is peace—and persecuted age-old neighbors.”

Highlighting the fact that “violence is always fueled by weapons,” Francis said “you cannot speak of peace while you are secretly racing to stockpile new arms.” He said that “this is a most serious responsibility weighing on the conscience of nations, especially the most powerful. Let us not forget the last century. Let us not forget the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Let us not turn the Middle East, where the Word of peace sprang up, into dark stretches of silence.”

He added, “Enough of stubborn opposition! Enough of the thirst for profit that surreptitiously exploits oil and gas fields without regard for our common home, with no scruples about the fact that energy market now dictates the law of coexistence among peoples!”

Pope Francis: "Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians, firmly willed and promoted by the international community, will be able to lead to a stable and lasting peace, and guarantee the coexistence of two states for two peoples.”

Turning to the ever-more dramatic situation of Jerusalem, Francis described it as “a unique and sacred city for Christians, Jews and Muslims the world over” and said its “identity and vocation must be safeguarded apart from various disputes and tensions, and whose status quo demands to be respected, as decided by the international community and repeatedly requested by the Christian communities of the Holy Land.”

He insisted that “only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians, firmly willed and promoted by the international community, will be able to lead to a stable and lasting peace, and guarantee the coexistence of two states for two peoples.”

“All too many children,” Francis continued, “have spent most of their lives looking at rubble instead of schools, hearing the deafening explosion of bombs rather than the happy din of playgrounds.” He appealed to everyone to “listen to the cry of children.”

When he had finished speaking, a group of children released doves in an expression of the desire for peace in the region.

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Tim Donovan
4 years 4 months ago

Although I 'm Catholic, I'm_fortunate that I know people of many different faiths. These include Protestants of many different denominations (my sister-in-law and niece are Presbyterians), Orthodox Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and several Muslims and Jews. I believe that while we should all remain true to the fundamental values of our faiths, that we can not only learn much from people of different faiths, but join them in serving people in need through humanitarian efforts. I occasionally make modest contributions to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association which provides both material and spiritual assistance to people in the region. The long time conflict between Israel and Palestinians is a matter of tremendous difficulty. I realize that the city of Jerusalem has sites which are sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I can understand that for many people of the Jewish faith that they believe the city should be recognized as their nation's capital. However, ultimately in order to bring (hopefully) lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians, I believe that Israel should be willing to compromise and not insist on Jerusalem as being their nation's_capital. At the same time, I believe that Palestinians must be clear in recognizing the right of Israel to exist, and renounce terrorism. I have long supported the establishment of a Palestinian state. Again, I'm sure that both Israel and the Palestinian people must compromise regarding what occupied territory Israel will cede to create a Palestinian state, while maintaining secure national borders. Finally, I believe that both our government as well as other governments (I would expect major Western nations to be sympathetic) to provide both humanitarian aid to the people of the region (perhaps especially Syria and Iraq) as well as promoting trade between the nations of the West and the Middle East.

Robert Klahn
4 years 4 months ago

How much real difference is there between the teachings of the Abrahamic faiths?

What occupied territory Israel will cede? All of it. That's why it's called "occupied", all of it and more must be ceded.

How can the Palestinian people accept the right of Israel to exist when most of the land of current Israel was never part of the original establishment? Every inch of land taken from Palestinians to establish Israel has to be paid for, or given back. Paid for in full, and at full value, must be the rule.

The greatest aid we can provide to any country is to aid it in establishing a democratic government.

Phillip Stone
4 years 4 months ago

The Holy Land, the crossroads of the world, the birthplace of the promised saviour, the true religion of his ancestors through the prophets is the most important place on the face of the earth as it is the battle front of the war between good and evil.
Christians and Jews can be properly described as people of the book, Muslims cannot.

The disturbers of the peace, the makers of war, the initiators of violence and the teachers of hatred are at the core fired up by Islam.
They are implacable, their religious teaching urges them to violent jihad of the sword, to kill Jews wherever they find them and in this particular era boast that they will drive all Israel into the sea.

Many leaders of the Christian faithful in the Middle East were unashamed to act and teach hatred of the Jews and tolerance of the Muslim during my long lifetime.

Peace in the Middle East may never be attained before the second coming of the Lord, in the meantime civil order and public safety must be imposed by armed force - strong police forces and strong military.
Any honest article on the topic is morally defective if it omits the numerous times the representatives of Israel have agreed to the cessation of hostilities and redistribution of land only to have their offers flatly refused.
Tell the truth, nothing recommends support of the enemies of Israel.
I want to see all the able bodied Christian Israelis enlist in the armed forces and support their nation and government against the jihadis in the same way as their Jewish brothers and sisters do.
Christianity is NOT a pacifist religion and values the peace of Christ, not the peace that the world gives ... temporary absence of war.

Stephen Burton
4 years 4 months ago

Christians are the light of the world when everything is splendid around them, as well as when, in dull snapshots of history, they decline to be surrendered to the enclosing misery yet rather feed the wick of expectation with the oil of prayer and love. help with assignment writing

David Sims
4 years 4 months ago

The Lord promises refreshment and freedom to all the abused of our world; however he needs us to satisfy his promise. He needs our voice to dissent the treacheries submitted on Full Essay Help account of the quiet, regularly complicit, of such a significant number of," said Pope Francis in his homily at the July 6 Mass for Migrants.

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