Pope Francis’ reflection and prayer gathering with all the Heads of Christian Churches of the Middle East on July 7 in Bari was commended also by Moscow’s Patriarchate. “A positive impression”, gratitude to the Pope, full support to Pope Francis’ words, were conveyed by Metropolitan Hilarion, President of the Department for Foreign Relations of Moscow’s Patriarchate, representing Patriarch Kirill in Bari, in a interview with SIR, Avvenire, and Radio inBlu, at the end of an intense Day of Prayer and dialogue in the city of Saint Nicholas. The situation of Christians in the Middle East is very close to the heart of the Russian Orthodox Church. Past April 14, Patriarch Kirill had a set of phone conversations with Pope Francis and with all Orthodox Patriarchs in the Middle East. Syria was the theme of the conversation. A few days later a significant group of Patriarchs of Orthodox Churches in the Middle East signed a peacemaking appeal addressed to political leaders. They wrote: “We implore them, in the name of God, to overcome their disagreements and to work together for peace in the world. Together we call upon the political leaders to avoid a further escalation of tensions, to eschew confrontation and to embrace dialogue.” Thus the idea to bring together in Bari all the Heads of Christian Churches in the Region received many thrusts. As Cardinal Leonardo Sandri told journalists, the Day in Bari “comes from afar and it comes from many voices: different Churches or Patriarchs have addressed it directly to the Holy Father during their visit to Rome”. There is also another appeal written in February 2016 by the Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï on behalf of the other Catholic Patriarchs in the Middle East, in which also Heads of non-Catholic Churches in the same region expressed their availability to intervene. Cardinal Kurt Koch confirmed that the meeting “had been planned for a long time”, and pointed out to journalists that Patriarch Kirill’s phone conversation with Pope Francis “was a further occasion. It was not the mainspring of the meeting but a further reason to hold it.” Moreover, everyone responded to Pope Francis’ invitation to Bari.
Metropolitan Hilarion, what are your impressions at the end of the Day in Bari?
I had a positive impression of the dialogue and prayers.
The discussion was very open, it obviously was held behind closed doors, and thus the conclusions are confidential. Thus I cannot disclose the contents of our debate but I can tell you that it was wholehearted, sincere. The representatives of Churches in the Middle East shared their hopes, their sorrows, their concerns, and we jointly examined what can be done to solve the problems afflicting the Middle East.
In the past 15 years we witnessed a genocide of Christians in the Middle East. It began in Iraq, it extended to Libya and it’s continuing in Syria, where the situation started to change only after the Russian intervention. But there are still problems and situations we are very worried about and we are grateful to Pope Francis for having involved us in this gathering. It should be remembered that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow contacted Pope Francis a few weeks ago.
It was the first time that Moscow’s Patriarch contacted the Pope by phone. The object of their conversation was the situation in the Middle East.
Patriarch Kirill also spoke with the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and on the same day I personally spoke with the Coptic Patriarch and with the Syrian-Orthodox Patriarch. I firmly believe that today’s meeting took shape after those phone conversations, and I am very pleased about it.
What is the message of the leaders of Christian Churches in the Middle East to political leaders? I think that the message was well-expressed by Pope Francis in his final address, which he read after our dialogue in St. Nicholas’ Basilica. I firmly believe that many participants in the meeting share his vision and views.
If we want to save Christians in the Middle East, if we don’t want Christianity to be erased from the maps of the Middle East, we need to act quickly.