VATICAN CITY — Joined by heads of Christian churches in the Middle East, Pope Francis Saturday condemned the “complicit silence” and indifference of the world to the conflicts tearing the region apart and urged Christians to pray for peace.
“Indifference kills, and we desire to lift up our voices in opposition to this murderous indifference,” the Pope said July 7.
As Christians, “we want to give a voice to those who have none, to those who can only wipe away their tears,” he said. “For the Middle East today is weeping, suffering and silent, as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches.”
“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!’”
Pope Francis spoke at the opening of a prayer encounter during his July 7 daytrip to Bari for an ecumenical gathering of patriarchs and heads of Christian churches in the Middle East, which held the theme “Peace Be Upon You! Christians Together for the Middle East.”
Located in the southern Italian region of Puglia, Bari is known as the “porta d’Oriente,” or the “Eastern Gate,” because of its connection to both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches through the relics of St. Nicholas, who is highly venerated in both traditions.
The ecumenical gathering in Bari drew the participation of some 19 leaders of Eastern Catholic Churches and Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, as well as ecclesial communities.
Upon his arrival, the Pope was greeted by local authorities before heading to the Basilica of St. Nicholas, where he personally greeted the 19 patriarchs who came to the event and venerated the relics of the saint alongside them in the basilica’s crypt.
After the prayer gathering, the Pope and ecumenical leaders returned to the Basilica of St. Nicholas for a closed-door meeting opened by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The group then had lunch before Francis headed back to Rome.
In his address during the prayer gathering, Pope Francis said veneration of St. Nicholas “crosses seas and bridges boundaries between Churches” and prayed that the saint would intercede “to heal the wounds that so many people bear within them.”
The Middle East, he said, is the place where Jesus lived and died and is, therefore, the place where “the light of faith spread throughout the world.”
However, despite the rich monastic and cultural traditions in the region, the Middle East has been overshadowed by “dark clouds of war, violence and destruction, instances of occupation and varieties of fundamentalism, forced migration and neglect,” Francis said, noting that all this has taken place “amid the complicit silence of many.”
The Middle East, he said, “has become a land of people who leave their own lands behind. 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.”
Francis recalled how, at the beginning of the day, while the heads of churches were praying in front of the relics of St. Nicholas, he lit an oil lamp with a single flame as a symbol of unity.
As Christians, “we want to kindle a ‘flame of hope’ in the Middle East, he said, and prayed that light from this and additional lamps lit during the prayer gathering would be a sign of the light that continues to shine in darkness.
“Christians are the light of the world, not only when everything is bright around them, but also when, in dark moments of history, they refuse to be resigned to the encircling gloom but instead feed the wick of hope with the oil of prayer and love,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his address by urging those present to join in prayer for peace in the Middle East and for all those who suffer.
He offered a special prayer for Jerusalem, which has been the center of religious and political tensions for years and which became a fresh source of conflict following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a decision that goes against the position taken by the United Nations.
The Lord “continues to weep” for Jerusalem, the Pope said, and prayed for peace in the city, which is “beloved of God and wounded by men.”
Francis closed his address by praying for all those who suffer, asking that “the God of all consolation, who heals the brokenhearted and binds up every wound, hear our prayer.”