Pope Francis has invited leaders of all Christian denominations in the Middle East to join him in Italy in July to discuss how they can help bring peace to the region, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
The meeting will take place on July 7 in the southern Adriatic port city of Bari, chosen because it is home to the relics of St. Nicholas, a figure venerated in both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity.
Nicholas, who lived about 1,700 years ago in what is today Turkey, is particularly honoured by Christian Orthodox Churches in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon in the Middle East.
Nicholas is also widely venerated among Orthodox Christians in Russia, which is Syria’s ally in the civil war.
The Vatican said the encounter would be an “ecumenical meeting for peace” where the religious leaders would discuss “the dramatic situation of the Middle East that afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith”.