Pope Francis' unfiltered encounter in Bari with Christian leaders to pray for peace

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The pope left Rome for an important encounter in Bari, in southern Italy. There, he joined patriarchs and leaders from Middle Eastern churches to pray for peace and hold dialogue. It was the first time they've met, as they differ on various issues. 

The Holy Father greeted them one by one at the entrance to the basilica of St. Nicholas, a saint venerated by both Eastern and Western Christians. 

Among the 19 leaders were Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. They oversee communities ranging from Egypt to Turkey, passing through Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. 

Later, Pope Francis prayed with them before the tomb of St. Nicholas

Then, they rode through the streets of Bari in the same bus on their way to a prayer encounter for peace very close to the Adriatic coast. 

There, before 100,000 people, the pope expressed his sorrow over the indifference shown despite a terrible situation in the Middle East. 

“War, violence and destruction, instances of occupation and varieties of fundamentalism, forced migration and neglect. All this has taken place amid the complicit silence of many. The Middle East 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.”

Later, the Holy Father recalled the reason for their gathering: praying for peace and showing those who live in the region that, regardless of their faith, they are not alone. 

“Indifference kills, and we desire to lift up our voices in opposition to this murderous indifference. We want to give a voice to those who have none, to those who can only wipe away their tears. For the Middle East today is weeping, suffering and silent as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches.”

During the ceremony, the Christian leaders said their personal intentions. From the Coptic Pope Tawadros II... to Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I... to Patriarch of Baghdad Louis Raphaël I Sako.

A choir also sang pieces in two Middle Eastern languages, Arabic and Aramaic. 

Then, the patriarchs lit a candle as a symbol of peace. 

After, they returned to the basilica, where they met in private around a roundtable as a sign of equality. 

They shared their concerns and discussed measures to bring peace to the region and protect the Christian minority paying the consequences of the violence. 

One hundred years ago, before the first World War, Christians made up 20 percent of the Middle East population. Now, they're only four percent. As the pope says, “The Middle East has become a land where people leave their own land.”

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