Doves, Candles and Prayers for Mideast Peace in Bari

Pope Francis releases a dove outside the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari. July 7, 2018 – freeze frame of video

Dear Blog Readers –

I traveled to the southern Italian city of Bari this weekend to cover a summit called by Pope Francis with Orthodox Patriarchs and leaders of Eastern Christian churches to discuss peace in the Middle East and the persecution of Christians in that region.

Pope Francis greets Orthodox Patriarchs and leaders of Eastern Christian churches at the door to the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari. July 7, 2018 – freeze frame of Vatican Media video

Bari, a port city that is roughly at the top of the heel of Italy’s boot, is known as a bridge city between East and West linking Catholics with their Orthodox Christian brothers. The center of that link is Bari’s Basilica of St. Nicholas, hidden amid the maze of alleys of Barivecchia, the old city. The basilica holds the relics of the 4th-century saint from Myra, once ancient Greece but now the Turkish city of Demre.  Saint Nicholas is widely revered by Eastern Churches and the basilica continues to be a popular destination for pilgrimages by orthodox Christians. Last year after nearly one thousand years in Bari, the relics of St. Nicholas were flown to Russia on a loan from the Vatican.  Hundreds of thousands of people lined up for hours to view them.

Statue of St. Nicholas outside the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari, Italy. Photo by Trisha Thomas, July 7, 2018

Saint Nicholas,  known for his secret gift-giving, is more widely recognize in the west as the popular Christmas figure, Santa Claus (Saint Nick).

The day was well-choreographed with Pope Francis arriving at the basilica and greeting the 20 religious leaders on the doorstep before praying before the relics.  That was followed by an evocative prayer ceremony on the seafront, the Pope dressed in white, surrounded by the Patriarchs in black, the sea breezes blowing their robes about them.   The leaders delivered prayers for peace in the Middle East in eight languages – Italian, English, French, Arabic, Greek, Armenian, Syriac, Assyrian- and lit candles for peace.

Pope Francis, orthodox patriarchs and leaders of Eastern Churches at the seafront in Bari for prayer ceremony. Freeze frame of video from Vatican Media. Bari, July 7, 2018

Police estimated 70,000 people were lining the seafront and filling the nearby piazzas to take part in the event.

Women with peace flag at prayer service for Mideast peace with Pope Francis and religious leaders in Bari, Italy. July 7, 2018. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. Bari, July 7, 2018

Following the prayer service, the religious leaders climbed onto an open-sided bus, looking a bit like they were on a school field trip, to go back to the basilica where they sat down for a two-hour meeting to discuss problems in the  Mideast from Syria to Jerusalem.

Wind blows Pope Francis’ vestment over his head as he attends prayer service with ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Bari, July 7, 2018 – this is one of the extra photos by my AP photographer colleague Alessandra Tarantino

Emerging from the meeting, Pope Francis delivered a blistering attack on the powerful who have used the Mideast for their own profits, on those who stockpile weapons, on fundamentalism, on fanaticism and the thirst for supremacy.  Here is a key passage:

“..it is essential that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests. Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many! No more occupying territories and thus tearing people apart! No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations! Let there be an end to using the Middle East for gains that have nothing to do with the Middle East!

War is the scourge that tragically assails this beloved region. The poor are its principal victims. Let us think only of war-torn Syria. War is the daughter of power and poverty. It is defeated by renouncing the thirst for supremacy and by eradicating poverty. So many conflicts have been stoked too by forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism that, under the guise of religion, have profaned God’s name – which is peace – and persecuted age-old neighbours. Violence is always fueled by weapons. You cannot speak of peace while you are secretly racing to stockpile new arms. This is a most serious responsibility weighing on the conscience of nations, especially the most powerful. Let us not forget the last century. Let us not forget the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

He spoke about Jerusalem and Syria, about children and poverty and the persecution of Christians.

At the end, the leaders released doves brought to them by children from Bari.

Nuns putting on sunscreen as they wait for prayer service with Pope Francis on seafront in Bari. July 7, 2018 – Photo by Trisha Thomas

But enough on the news, which has already been reported.  Here is a bit of behind-the-scenes with the journalists, camerapersons and photographers covering the event.

I travelled down on a train from Rome with AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara and photographer Alessandra Tarantino.  Several other international news agency staffers were on our train and including AFP photographer Alberto Pizzoli.  Alberto explained to us that he had inherited the “Bible” from renowned Vatican photographer Giancarlo Giuliani who travelled the world covering Popes starting in the 1960s and put together a list of the best restaurants in all the cities the Popes visited.  Pizzoli had plumed the pages of Giuliani’s restaurant bible and found “Le Terrazze del Santalucia” in Bari, known for its fabulous fish dishes, and had booked a table for ten.

AP threesome of cameraman Gianfranco Stara, photographer Alessandra Tarantino and producer Trisha Thomas at “Le Terrazze del Santalucia” in Bari. Photo by Alberto Pizzoli, July 6, 2018, Bari, Italy

Friday night I found myself slurping up the insides of sea urchins, getting lessons on how to suck the meat out of a prawn’s head, and throwing back glass after glass of chilled white wine while waves slapped up against the seawall nearby.  In the distance, we could see Coast Guard and police boats patrolling the waters ahead of the Pope’s morning arrival.

Here is a photo of my little “Riccio del Mare” – directly translated “sea hedgehog” or correctly translated “sea urchin” – on my very white plate.

A “riccio di mare” or sea urchin on my very white plate at a seaside restaurant in Bari. Photo by Trisha Thomas, July 6, 2018

It was a late evening, making the 5am wakeup call a little difficult.  The police opened the gateways for journalists at dawn and closed them at 6:30am.  We dragged our equipment – cameras, tripods, cables, computers…down the seafront, passing scouts handing out bottles of water.  We stopped to get bottles from a girl scout, but she insisted she had to take the cap off and throw it away before giving us a bottle.  “Safety rule,” she shrugged.  We weren’t sure what the danger in closed plastic water bottles could be, but did not have time to argue and left the water behind as we made our way past giant cement New Jersey traffic blocks towards our position.

AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino walking down the street in Bari after covering prayer event with Pope Francis. Photo by Trisha Thomas, July 9, 2018

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Trisha Thomas

Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

2 Comments

  1. Joan Schmelzle
    2018/07/10

    Hi Trisha,
    The news part of your story didn’t make anything I’ve read so I found it very interesting to read that part before the other part. It might have made Chicago Tribune where I have found you before, but it wasn’t on one of the days I receive it. Maybe I missed it on line. Probably will be big story in next issue of National Catholic Reporter. Anyway I am glad to be able to read it.
    Enjoyed the “fishy” part too. I have tackled a sea urchin long time ago, but liked to read about it again. I know once on a tour I ate seafood I probably would never think to order. and probably wouldn’t. Enjoyed most of it anyway!
    A presto,
    Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/07/13

      Thank you Joan — I did not do a great job on that post. Rushing to much these days. I do appreciate you taking the time to read it. I will put more effort into the next one. This spring has been a bit crazy and have not had enough time to dedicate to blog posts.

      Reply

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