Pontiff: Mideast Christians Are Citizens, Not Strangers

Urges Aid Agencies to Help Eastern Faithful Remain in Homeland

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 24, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Christians living in the Middle East should be treated not as strangers, but as citizens, Benedict XVI said today to members of the Assembly of Societies for Aid to Eastern Churches (ROACO).

In an address he gave to close the 84th plenary session of the aid agencies, which took place this week in the Vatican, the Pope urged those present to "do everything possible [...] to ensure that the pastors and faithful of Christ can remain in the East where they were born."

"The East is their earthly homeland," he added. "It is there that they are called today to promote, without distinction, the good of all mankind. Everyone professing this faith must be recognized as having equal dignity and true freedom, thus favoring more fruitful ecumenical and interreligious collaboration."

The Holy Father expressed his closeness to "those who are suffering and to those who are trying desperately to escape, thereby increasing the flow of migration that often remains without hope."

Benedict XVI said that he prays "that every possible form of mediation will be explored, so that violence may cease and social harmony and peaceful coexistence may everywhere be restored, with respect for the rights of individuals as well as communities."

"Fervent prayer and reflection will help us at the same time to read the signs emerging from the present season of toil and tears: May the Lord of history always turn them to the common good," the Pontiff added.

Arab Spring

On Tuesday, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, opened the plenary assembly calling for respect for the dignity and rights of the human person in the context of the "Arab Spring."

Referring to the series of anti-regime uprising that have taken place throughout the middle east since late last year, the cardinal noted that it is a time of hope and an opportunity for progress, but expressed the fear that discrimination against Christians might increase.

"In many cases, these movements coincide with the scheme of values of the Christian faith," he said. "We certainly are for this change that respects the dignity of the human person, especially religious liberty, but we are with all those who are suffering the consequences of these changes, because just as we proclaim these rights, there is also much suffering and violence causing many dead."

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On ZENIT's Web page:

Pope's address: www.zenit.org/article-32935?l=english