Pope to focus on fate of Christians in Middle East on July 7

Pope Francis poses with clergy boys and girls during for his weekly general audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Pope Francis has hailed a "two Koreas" summit this week on the Korean Peninsula as an opportunity to start dialogue, and urged those involved to "have the courage" to be "artisans of peace." (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience, in St.Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 25, 2018. The pontiff blessed and prayed with the faithful for a highly-anticipated summit between the leaders of North and South Korea next Friday over the North's nuclear crisis. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis is presented a teddy bear, the mascot of an Austrian Police band, during his weekly general audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Pope Francis has hailed a "two Koreas" summit this week on the Korean Peninsula as an opportunity to start dialogue, and urged those involved to "have the courage" to be "artisans of peace." (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican says Pope Francis is planning to invite heads of churches and Christian communities from the Middle East to join him in a day of reflection and prayer in the southeastern Italian port city of Bari on July 7.

The announcement on Wednesday said Francis has called for this "ecumenical encounter for peace" in view of the "dramatic situation" facing many Christians in the Middle East.

The pope has frequently decried violence targeting Christians in parts of the Middle East, many of whom have fled their homelands to seek safety.

St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari, an Adriatic port city, is a popular pilgrimage destination for both Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

The Vatican said Francis is calling for prayers to help prepare for the daylong event.

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