Middle East: Jews, Muslims and Christians pray for the Pope

 Many different faith communities of the Middle East have been praying for the Pope since his recent illness. Speaking from Jerusalem, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM superior of the Franciscans in Jerusalem, said: "Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land send messages of affection and concern and assure their prayers for Pope John Paul II." He said: ""All the different Christians in the Holy Land are united with the Catholic Church at this time in intense prayers for the Holy Father that the Lord will give him strength and health. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Ireneos came to express his concern and inquire after the Pope's condition and he told me his community is praying for the Pope," Father Pizzaballa told Fides news service. "Here in the Holy Land John Paul II is seen as a man of dialogue and encounter, a great 'bridge-builder' true to his title of 'pontiff'. Everyone recalls his special Jubilee pilgrimage -to the roots of the faith- when he made such significant gestures of openness towards all believers and showed his deep desire for peace and reconciliation and an end to conflict in the Holy Land. "Both Jews and Muslims look to the Holy Father with respect and affection. Yesterday Rabbi David Rosen openly declared his feelings of sympathy and best wishes for the health of the Pope. Moreover, Muslims in Galilee assured local Christians there of solidarity and prayers for the Pope. These small gestures of dialogue and friendship show that John Paul II continues to build bridges and bring people closer together even when he is suffering." In Syria, where the Pope's landmark visit to the Great Mosque in Damascus in May 2001, is still a vivid memory, Orthodox Christians and Muslims are united with Catholics in concern and prayers for the Pope, Archbishop Isidore Battikha Auxiliary of the Greek Melkite Patriarchate of Damascus told Fides news service yesterday. The Pope is respected and admired by Syrians and despite the situation of political tension people are genuinely concerned for his health, he said. "It is remarkable to see that the Pope is appreciated and held in high esteem by all believers. Everyone was deeply impressed by the visit he paid to the Great Mosque in Damascus. A few days ago a group of Muslim Sheikhs came to inquire about the Pope's health. They asked us to send him best wishes for a speedy recovery and to assure him of their prayers" said Mgr Isidore. Other Christians in Syria are also offering prayers for the Holy Father. "Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV has voiced his concern and sympathy and assured his prayers for the Pope whom he highly esteems. In his office he has a photo taken as he and the Pope embraced. His attitude facilitates ecumenical relations." the Archbishop said. "Needless to say the entire Catholic community here is praying for the Pope. Our Patriarch Gregory III Laham sent a letter to parishes encouraging people to pray for the Pope to comfort him at this time of trial. The Pope is our Shepherd and we Catholics in Syria are in communion with him in prayer." Source: Fides

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