Benedict to Mid East Christians: Resist temptation to emigrate

Pope Benedict has issued a call to Christians from the Middle East region to be "courageous and steadfast" and not fall to the temptation to emigrate.

According to the Vatican Information Service, the Pontiff made the call at a meeting with members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In an address to the fourth plenary meeting of Commission, Pope Benedict told delegates that the "shared ecclesial patrimony" and "heritage of experience" of the Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches "should shape our future 'guiding our common path towards the re-establishment of full communion'".

"Many of you come from countries of the Middle East," Pope Benedict observed, recalling that many Christian minorities may face difficulties in surviving "in the midst of such a volatile geopolitical panorama" and how they "are often tempted to emigrate.

In these circumstances, Christians of all traditions and communities in the Middle East are called to be courageous and steadfast in the power of the Spirit of Christ, the Pope said.

Across the region, Christian communities date to the to the time of Christ, but nearly everywhere Christian populations are in decline.

In Iran the Catholic population has today is one-tenth what it was in 1973, while in Iraq it is one-third, according to last year's Vatican statistics. In Syria, the Catholic presence has dropped from 2.6 per cent of the whole population to just 1 per cent; in Israel and the Palestinian territories it has fallen from 1.9 per cent to 1 per cent.

"May the intercession and example of the many martyrs and saints, who have given courageous witness to Christ in these lands, sustain and strengthen the Christian communities in their faith!" the Pope prayed.

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2 Feb 2007

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