By Melissa Butz
Pope Francis returned from South Italy, where he met with nearly 60 bishops to find solutions for peace and protection for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
The pontiff condemned war and violence while speaking to Catholic bishops from North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He met them in Bari to conclude a five-day synod-style meeting seeking solutions for peace in the Middle East.
“War can never be considered normal, or accepted as an inevitable means of settling differences and conflicts of interest,” Pope Francis said.
The encounter’s goal was to find solutions for how the 19 countries surrounding the Mediterranean can help Christian minorities.
Pope Francis asked the bishops to involve governments in protecting the vulnerable.
“The persecution experienced above all – but not only – by Christian communities is a heart-rending fact that cannot leave us indifferent,” he said.
The pontiff called the Mediterranean a cemetery, saying countless migrants have died while seeking a better life or fleeing persecution in their home countries. He asked that they be welcomed.
“As I said, it is unthinkable that this process of acceptance and dignified integration can be accomplished by building walls,” the Holy Father said.
He asked religious leaders to lead efforts of respect, dialogue and justice in order to combat this drama, instead of succumbing to the evils of the throwaway culture.
Pope Francis recalled his last encounter in Bari with the same theme: peace in the Middle East.
While the encounter in July 2018 involved Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox church leaders, this one was organized by the Italian bishops conference for bishops bordering the Mediterranean.