Vatican outlines July 7 visit, an event desired by Francis to strengthen the path of unity among Christians and to reiterate that there cannot be a Middle East without Christians. The percentage of Christians in the Middle East has fallen dramatically over the course of a century: while they represented 20% of the population of the Middle East before the First World War, now they are only 4%.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis’ ecumenical meeting next Saturday, July 7th, in Bari with the heads of the Churches and of the Christian communities of the Middle East will be "a strong gesture in its essentiality" to strengthen the path of unity among Christians and to reiterate that there cannot be a Middle East without Christians.
The meeting, which will have the title "Peace be with you! Christians together for the Middle East", was presented today in the Vatican by Card. Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Card. Kurt Koch, resident of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
The Middle East, said Card. Koch, is the land of origin of Christianity and "it is therefore not by chance that the event that marked the beginning of the "dialogue of charity" between Catholics and Orthodox took place in Jerusalem" with the embrace of Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of January 6, 1964.
"The Middle East, the land of its origins, is also one of the regions of the world where the situation of Christians is most precarious. Because of wars and persecution, many families abandon their historical homeland in search of security and a better future. The percentage of Christians in the Middle East has fallen dramatically over the course of a century: while they represented 20% of the population of the Middle East before the First World War, now they are only 4%. The martyred region, the Middle East is also a place where ecumenical relations are stronger and more promising, especially between Orthodox and Catholics".
In this regard, the Cardinal spoke of an "ecumenism of life". "In his Letter to Christians in the Middle East, Pope Francis rejoiced in the concrete ecumenism lived by Christians in the Middle East: 'In the midst of enmities and conflicts, the communion lived among you in fraternity and simplicity is a sign of the Kingdom of God '(December 21, 2014). This ecumenism of life has sometimes been translated into pastoral agreements which provide, in case of necessity, access to the sacraments of other Churches by the faithful ".
"The difficult context in which Christians find themselves quickly transforms the ecumenism of life into an 'ecumenism of sanctity'". In his Letter, Francis writes: "The situation in which you live is a strong appeal to the sanctity of life, as attested by saints and martyrs of every ecclesial belonging".
"When difficulties become suffering, this ecumenism of sanctity becomes ecumenism of the blood". "The situation in which Christians live in the Middle East is an ecumenical incentive not only for them, but also for Christians all over the world".
Finally, the cardinal recalled that among the principles affirmed by the Catholic Church there is "the need to protect the rights of every person and every minority. The primacy of law, including respect for religious freedom and equality before the law, based on the principle of citizenship regardless of ethnic origin or religion ". It is "a fundamental principle for the realization and for the maintenance of a peaceful and fruitful coexistence among the various communities in the Middle East".
For his part, Card. Sandri underlined the particular attention of Pope Francis for the East since the Mass for the beginning of the Pontificate, when he prayed "surrounded by the Patriarchs and the Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches".
Attention also to the Orthodox East and Eastern Orthodox: "words and gestures of welcome, of insistence in opening doors and pointing roads ... sharing pain, coining the well-known expression of blood ecumenism. We think of the closeness expressed to the Coptic Church on the occasion of the martyrdom of some of its faithful by the DAESH, for the bomb attacks in some churches ".
"In the Middle East - he later remarked - even the Islamic believers themselves are hurt and suffer for those who used violence profaning the name of God, which is peace, they too were forced to leave their homes and their lands, together with other minorities, not only Christian but also Yazidis in Iraq ".
Card. Sandri finally illustrated the program for July 7 that "will be composed of two great moments": prayer on the waterfront and "the moment of reflection and mutual listening in the Basilica of St. Nicholas between the Holy Father and the Heads of Churches and Ecclesial Community of the Middle East, each bringing their own point of view, observations and proposals. An introductory report, which was entrusted to Monsignor Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, will be followed by open discussion. All this part will take place behind closed doors". At the end of the meeting, the Pope and the others present will go to the churchyard, and "will release some doves that will be given to them by some children: a prophetic gesture, because above all we must restore that hope that bad actions or the simple indifference in these years has robbed from the children and young generations of the Middle East ".