The decision by Pope Francis to call a day of prayer for the Middle East will be a "real sign of hope" for the Christians suffering in the region, according to a leading Catholic aid organisation.
The Vatican announced this week that the Pope will visit Bari in southern Italy and invite other Christian and Church leaders in a day of prayer for peace in the Middle East.
John Pontifex, from Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, said: “The communities in the Middle East – such as those I recently met in Syria and Iraq – have suffered unbelievable pain and so for them this prayer initiative from Pope Francis will be a real sign of hope. Many of them feel abandoned to their fate, that people in the West don’t care – except those providing pastoral and emergency aid through organisations such as ACN. And so this initiative promises to be an act of spiritual communion at a time when the faithful of the Middle East are desperate to reach out for support.”
He continued: “This day of prayer will provide an opportunity for all of us to join with the faithful of the Middle East in calling on God’s help to stop the fighting, to heal their nations and to rebuild communities shattered by seemingly endless bombardment. We must pray for the survival of plurality in a region where so often minorities no longer feel welcome. Christians have long been bridge-builders and it is no coincidence that their widespread migration from the region comes at a time of increased tension and conflict.”
The director of the Holy See press office told journalists on Wednesday that the ecumenical encounter will take place on July 7. Greg Burke said that the Pope intends to invite the heads of other Churches and Christian communities in the region.
A statement from the press office said the Pope is urging people to prepare for this meeting through prayer, recalling “the dramatic situation in the Middle East which afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith”.
The visit will be his third to Puglia in five months, Vatican News reported.
Bari is on the Adriatic coast with an airport is named after Pope John Paul II – the Karol Wojtyla airport. Its basilica is dedicated to Saint Nicholas and is an important place of pilgrimage for both Catholics and Orthodox, said Vatican News.
The day of prayer for peace in the Middle East will be the Pope's third visit to the region in five months. In March he visited San Giovanni Rotondo to pray at the tomb of Padre Pio, and he went to Alessano and Molfetta in April in memory of former bishop Don Tonino Bello.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis called for prayers for peace in Syria after the air strikes by the US, UK and France in response to the suspected chemical attack in Douma.
Speaking after his Regina Coeli at St Peter's, he said: "I am deeply disturbed by the current world situation, in which, despite the tools available to the international community, it is difficult to agree on a common action in favor of peace in Syria and in other regions of the world.
"While I pray incessantly for peace, and I invite all people of good will to continue doing so, I appeal again to all the political leaders, so that justice and peace prevail."
Catholic and Orthodox church leaders in Syria also united to condemn the air strikes.
Pic: Pope Francis, who is to visit Bari in July to pray for the Middle East, arrives for his weekly general audience, in St.Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Credit: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images