By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis on Saturday denounced as ‘murderous’ the indifference and complicit silence of the world in the face of the unending tragedy in the Middle East which he said is “is weeping, suffering and silent as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches.
The Pope uttered the powerful words in the southern Italian Adriatic port city of Bari where he hosted a day-long ecumenical reflection and prayer meeting with the heads and representatives of some 19 Christian Churches and Communities of the Middle East to implore for peace and for Christians in the troubled region.
Considered a bridge between east and west, Bari also hosts the relics of St. Nicholas, venerated by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
“We have come as pilgrims to Bari, this window open to the Near East, carrying in our hearts our Churches, our peoples and all those living in situations of great suffering. We are saying to them, “We are close to you”. the Pope said during the prayer meeting at the seafront.
The theme of the day-long papal initiative was “Peace be Upon You!"
Indifference and complicit silence that kill
“Let there be peace! This is the cry of all those who are Abel today, a cry that rises up to God’s throne. For their sake, we have no right to say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” the Pope said.
“Indifference,” the Pope said, “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 swallow their tears. For the Middle East today is weeping, suffering and silent as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches.”
The Pope noted that the region so full of light, has in recent years been covered by “dark clouds of war, violence and destruction, instances of occupation and varieties of fundamentalism, forced migration and neglect,” all of which he said “amid the complicit silence of many.”
No Middle East without Christians
The Holy Father deplored that “the Middle East has become a land of people who leave their own lands behind.” Warning there is the risk that the “presence of our brothers and sisters in the faith will disappear, disfiguring the very face of the region,” the Pope deplored “a Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East.”
Pope Francis flew in a helicopter early morning to Bari where he greeted the Middle East Christian Church leaders outside the Basilica of St. Nicholas and together they descended to the crypt to pray before the relics and lit a one-flame lamp for peace.
Prayer – the flame of hope
Speaking at the seafront, Pope Francis said that with the lamp before St. Nicholas they wanted to “kindle a flame of hope.”
Christians, he said, are the light of the world not only when everything is bright around, but also when, in dark moments of history, they refuse to be resigned to the encircling gloom, feeding the “wick of hope with the oil of prayer and love.” “For when we lift up our hands to heaven in prayer, and we stretch out our hands to our brothers and sisters without seeking our own advantage,” the Pope said, “the fire of the Spirit, the Spirit of unity and of peace, is kindled and leaps into flame.”
The Holy Father urged all to implore God on behalf of the “little ones, the simple ones, the wounded, and all those at whose side God stands” and beg, “Let there be peace!”