On Sunday Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew signed a joint declaration affirming their common commitment to full Christian unity as well as their support for suffering Christians in the Middle East.
“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years,” the joint statement reads.
Sunday marked the third and final day of Pope Francis’ trip to Turkey, and coincided with the Christian feast of the apostle Saint Andrew, of special significance to the Orthodox Church. Andrew was brother to Saint Peter and the Orthodox consider Patriarch Bartholomew to be his successor.
The joint statement calls on Middle East leaders to do all in their power to enable Christians to remain in their native land. “Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes,” the declaration reads. “It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests.”
The two leaders describe the tragic situation of Christians in the Middle East as “an ecumenism of suffering” drawing Christians closer together. Just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, the declaration continues, “so, too, the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity.”
“The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer, but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community,” the declaration says.
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome