Pope Francis has turned his attention, and the world’s, to the horrific persecution of Christians which has been steadily increasing in recent years. Bishop Desmond Tutu

An Italian study determined that 105,000 Christians are martyred for their faith annually— in essence, a Christian dies every 5 minutes, primarily in the Middle East.

To promote Christian unity in addressing this crisis, Pope Francis traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, where he conferred with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. The two religious leaders issued a joint statement urging Middle Eastern political leaders to ensure that Christians are allowed to remain on their lands and practice their faith without fear.

“Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes”, the text read. “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. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many.”

To emphasize the importance of Christian unity, the Catholic pontiff bowed before Bartholomew and asked for a blessing, becoming the first pope to do so in the 1000 years since the Catholic Church split into two factions, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.

The two leaders are on friendly terms and are working to resolve their theological differences, working toward a possible re-unification in the future. In fact, Bartholomew’s theological advisor stated, “There is a special connection, I would say inspired and spirited friendship, between these two visionary leaders. We are very blessed to have such primates on the thrones of Rome and Constantinople at the same time and at a critical point in history.”

Taking religious unity a step further during his visit to Turkey, Pope Francis prayed with Rahmi Yaran, the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, at the Blue Mosque, then made a brief visit to the Hagia Sophia.

In a final appeal to Middle Eastern Churches, Pope Francis observes, “Many have fled to seek shelter from an inhumanity that throws entire populations out into the streets, leaving them without any means of survival.” He adds, “[You must] seek to coordinate your efforts to respond to the humanitarian needs, whether of those who remain in their homelands or of those who have sought refuge in other countries.”

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