Pope Francis will be in Bari, Italy, this weekend to pray for peace in the Middle East — and the trip will have a strong ecumenical theme.
Taking place on 7 July, the day of prayer and reflection will include leaders of Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, and will have an “authentically ecumenical breath,” Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto told Vatican News.
He said the day’s events will “combine the ecumenical vision of the Christian Churches and [give] particular attention to the Middle East, to invoke peace, but also to be close to our Christian brothers, who live in suffering.”
Pope Francis announced 25 April he would hold the day primarily for “prayer and reflection on the dramatic situation of the Middle East which afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith.”
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, has confirmed he will be in attendance, as will Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who leads the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Which other patriarchs will attend has not yet been confirmed.
During his Angelus address 1 July, Pope Francis said he and the other Christian leaders in Bari “will implore with one voice: ‘Peace be upon you,’” as it says in Psalm 122. “I ask everyone to accompany with prayer this pilgrimage of peace and unity,” he said.
Bari is often called the “porta d’Oriente” or the “Eastern Gate” because of its connection to both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox through the relics of St. Nicholas, venerated by members of both Churches.
Historically, many Eastern Churches have been present in the city, Archbishop Cacucci said, but an ecumenical culture was imprinted upon it most strongly after the Second Vatican Council, when the archbishop of the time opened the crypt of the Basilica of St. Nicholas to the Orthodox by creating a small chapel dedicated to them.
For more on St. Nicholas, read Bari’s Borrowed Wonder Worker from the July-August 1997 edition of our magazine, which notes:
[The popularity of St. Nicholas] rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”