Ecumenical Patriarch prays for peace at meeting of Orthodox Patriarchs with Pope Francis on persecution of Middle East Christians

On Saturday, July 7, His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the first Prelate of Orthodoxy, met with other Orthodox Patriarchs and Pope Francis at the Italian city of Bari to pray for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. At this historic meeting, His All Holiness prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ … inspire good things in the hearts of those who want war and pacify our hearts too, free us and all men from evil and selfish desires and sow in our and their hearts a spirit of justice, reconciliation and love for all our brothers.”

According to the Associated Press, Bari was chosen as the location for this extraordinary ecumenical gathering because that Adriatic port city is “considered a religious bridge between East and West and home to the relics of St. Nicholas, an important saint in the Orthodox Christian world.”

The Greek-language publication Romfea reported that “for this reason, the religious leaders began their program by praying in the church where the relics of the Saint are located.” AP noted that Francis greeted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the other patriarchs “outside the Basilica of St. Nicholas and together they descended to the crypt to pray before the relics and light a flame for peace symbolizing the unity of Christians divided by over 1,000 years of schism.”

Enthusiasm for the meeting ran high in Bari. According to Romfea, “tens of thousands of believers rushed to the streets early to cheer the top religious leaders of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.”

The gathering featured prayers in Greek, Italian, English, Arabic, Armenian and Assyrian. Pope Francis, AP reported, “denounced the ‘murderous indifference’ that has allowed violence to consume the Middle East and drive tens of thousands of Christians from their homes….In his opening prayer, Francis said the Middle East represented the source of Christianity, where ancient Christian rites and heritage are preserved and where ‘our very souls are rooted….Indifference kills, and we desire to lift up our voices in opposition to this murderous indifference. For the Middle East today is weeping, suffering and silent as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches.'”

In addition to the Ecumenical Patriarch, also present were Patriarchs of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, including the Patriarchs of Babylon, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. “Notably absent from the gathering,” reported AP, “was Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been a strong supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Syria.”