Pope Stresses Respect for Mideast Christians

Calls for International Effort to Avoid Bloodshed

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NICOSIA, Cyprus, JUNE 6, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is underlining the need for respect for Christians in the Middle East, and is calling for increased international efforts to resolve conflict in that region.

The Pope said this today in an address at the Eleftheria Sports Centre in Nicosia, before he presented the "instrumentum laboris" (working document) for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in Rome this upcoming October 10-24.

"Christians everywhere continue to look to the Middle East with special reverence," the Pontiff acknowledged, "on account of the prophets and patriarchs, apostles and martyrs to whom we owe so much, the men and women who heard God's word, bore witness to it, and handed it on to us who belong to the great family of the Church."

Speaking to the Christians in that region, he affirmed that the upcoming synod assembly "will attempt to deepen the bonds of communion between the members of your local Churches, and the communion of these churches with each other and with the universal Church."

He continued, "The Assembly also aims to encourage you in the witness of your faith in Christ in those countries where the faith was born and from where it spread."

"It is also known that some of you have endured great hardships due to the current situation in the region," the Holy Father acknowledged. "The Special Assembly is an opportunity for Christians from the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East."

Christian presence

He noted that "this is an opportunity to highlight the significant value of the Christian presence and witness in countries of the Bible, not only for the Christian community worldwide, but also for your neighbors and fellow citizens."

Benedict XVI acknowledged that the Christians "want to live in peace and harmony with your Jew and Muslim neighbors."

"Often, you act as peacemakers in the difficult process of reconciliation," he affirmed, "You deserve recognition for the invaluable role you fill."

The Pope expressed the "serious hope that your rights are increasingly respected, including the right to freedom of worship and religious freedom, and that you will never again suffer discrimination of any kind."

He continued, "I pray that the work of the Special Assembly will help to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs, so that just and lasting solutions may be found to the conflicts that cause so much hardship."

"On this grave matter," the Pontiff said, "I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed."

Bishop Padovese

He stated, "It is only fitting that I recall the late Bishop Luigi Padovese who, as president of the Turkish Catholic Bishops, contributed to the preparation of the Instrumentum Laboris that I am consigning to you today."

The 63-year-old prelate, who was the apostolic vicar in Anatolia and president of the Turkish bishops' conference, was murdered in Iskenderun, Turkey, hours before he was to travel to Cyprus for the apostolic trip of Benedict XVI.

Authorities charged the Capuchin bishop's driver with the murder, 26-year-old Murat Altun, who is said to be mentally unstable.

The Holy Father affirmed: "News of his unforeseen and tragic death on Thursday surprised and shocked all of us.

"I entrust his soul to the mercy of Almighty God, mindful of how committed he was, especially as a bishop, to interreligious and cultural understanding, and to dialogue between the Churches."

"His death," Benedict XVI noted, "is a sobering reminder of the vocation that all Christians share, to be courageous witnesses in every circumstance to what is good, noble and just."

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Full text: http://zenit.org/article-29503?l=english