Pope calls for 'urgent, concerted effort' to resolve tensions in Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

“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.” These were the words spoken by the Holy Father Benedict XVI on Sunday, at the end of the Mass celebrated in the Eleftheria Sports Center of Nicosia, prior to the consignment of the Instrumentum Laboris of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which will be held in October.

In his address, the Holy Father began by recalling Bishop Luigi Padovese, President of the Turkish Bishops' Conference, who was killed on 3 June, and who had contributed to the preparation of the Instrumentum Laboris: “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 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.”

The Pope then spoke of how the Middle East has “a special place in the hearts of all Christians, since it was there that God first made himself known to our fathers in faith.” Since then, the message of the Gospel has spread all over the world, but “Christians everywhere continue to look to the Middle East with special reverence, 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.”

Reflecting on the upcoming Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father revealed that it “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,” thus it will be a source of encouragement in witnessing to the faith in Christ, where the faith was born and from where it spread. The Holy Father continued: “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. 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 neighbours and fellow citizens.

"You are help the common good in countless ways, for example through education, health care and social assistance, and you work to build society. You want to live in peace and harmony with your Jew and Muslim neighbors. Often, you act as peacemakers in the difficult process of reconciliation. You deserve recognition for the invaluable role you fill. This is my 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. 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.” After a visit to the Maronite Cathedral where he was greeted by Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus of the Maronites, Pope Benedict ended his apostolic trip to Cyprus with a farewell ceremony at Larnaca airport on Sunday evening.

Following some brief remarks from Demetris Christofias, president of the Republic of Cyprus, the Pope thanked all those who had made his visit such a success.

He said: "As I depart your shores, like many pilgrims before me I am reminded again of how the Mediterranean is made up of a rich mosaic of peoples with their distinctive cultures and their beauty, their warmth and their humanity. In spite of that reality, the Eastern Mediterranean is at the same time no stranger to conflict and bloodshed, as we have tragically witnessed in recent days. Let us all redouble our efforts to build a real and lasting peace for all the peoples of the region.

"Together with that general objective Cyprus can play a particular role in promoting dialogue and co-operation. Striving patiently for the peace of your own hearths and for the prosperity of your neighbours, you will then be well placed to hear and understand all sides of many complex issues, and to help peoples to come to a greater understanding of one another. The path that you are taking, Mr President, is one which the international community looks to with great interest and hope, and I note with satisfaction all the efforts that have been made to favour peace for your people and for the whole island of Cyprus.

"As I give thanks to God for these days which saw the first encounter of the Catholic community in Cyprus with the Successor of Peter on their own soil, I also recall with gratitude my meetings with other Christian leaders, in particular with His Beatitude Chrysostomos II and the other representatives of the Church of Cyprus, whom I thank for their brotherly welcome. I hope that my visit here will be seen as another step along the path that was opened up before us by the embrace in Jerusalem of the late Patriarch Athenagoras and my venerable predecessor Pope Paul VI. Their first prophetic steps together show us the road that we too must tread. We have a divine call to be brothers, walking side by side in the faith, humble before almighty God, and with unbreakable bonds of affection for one another. As I invite my fellow Christians to continue this journey, I would assure them that the Catholic Church, with the Lord's grace, will herself pursue the goal of perfect unity in charity through an ever deepening appreciation of what Catholics and Orthodox hold dearest."

The Holy Father then repeated his "sincere hope and prayer that, together, Christians and Muslims will become a leaven for peace and reconciliation among Cypriots and serve as an example to other countries".

 Source: Fides

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