CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' visit to the southern Italian Adriatic port city of
Bari will be an
occasion to once again affirm the church's closeness with persecuted Christians
in the Middle East, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch said.
birthplace of Christianity, the Middle East plays a special role in promoting a
path toward unity, the cardinal said.
Middle East, which is a martyred region, is a place where ecumenical relations
are strongest and most promising, particularly between Orthodox and
Catholics," said Cardinal Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Koch, along with Cardinal
Leonardo Sandri, prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches, updated
journalists July 3 on the pope's trip to Bari, where he will host a day of
reflection and ecumenical prayer for peace in the Middle East.
confirmed that Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of
Alexandria and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and all
Africa, will be present at the service.
Metropolitan Hilarion of
Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church,
also will be present on behalf of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
Francis will meet with the patriarchs and representatives of the Eastern
Churches and pray before the relics of St. Nicholas, who is venerated by both
Catholics and Orthodox.
then travel by bus to the site of the ecumenical prayer service and afterward
return to the Basilica of St. Nicholas, where the pope will meet privately with
the patriarchs for more than two hours.
Sunday Angelus address July 1, Pope Francis called on the faithful to join him
and the patriarchs "in prayer on this pilgrimage of peace and unity"
for the Middle East.
will live a day of prayer and reflection on the always tragic situation of that
region where so many of our brothers and sisters in the faith continue to
suffer and we will implore in one voice: 'Peace be upon you!'" the pope
Koch said the persecution and suffering of Christians in the Middle East is an
"ecumenical incentive" for Christians around the world.
leaders, he said, must work together to avoid a scenario of "a Middle East
without Christians; not for religious reasons but also for political and social
reasons, because Christians are an essential element of balance in the