Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pope encourages Christians in Middle East to persevere

Reporting from Amman, Jordan -- Pope Benedict XVI told 20,000 followers in an open-air Mass today that Christians in the Middle East are "deeply touched by difficulties and uncertainties" but that they must be strong in their faith to counter religious extremism.

The pope's message on the final day of his pilgrimage to Jordan was for Christians in the region, especially in Iraq, to persevere in the face of their declining populations and a Middle East torn by violence and radicalism. He called on Roman Catholics to reach across religious divides to make peace.
"May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the church throughout the world," said the 82-year-old pontiff, who leaves Jordan on Monday for the next leg of his trip, in Israel and the West Bank.

Much of Benedict's concentration while in this tribal kingdom was on improving the Vatican's relations with the Muslim world following his 2006 lecture that quoted a medieval emperor as saying some of the prophet Muhammad teachings were "evil and inhuman." Moderate Muslim clerics credited the pontiff's speech on Saturday at the Al Hussein bin Talal Mosque as a sign that the Catholic Church was serious about interfaith dialogue.

During Sunday Mass in the Amman International Stadium, the pontiff turned his attention to Christians in the Holy Land, whose numbers have been declining for decades. In Jordan, for example, Christians accounted for 30% of the population in 1950. They make up less than 4% today. The pope said that to remain strong Christians must strengthen ties among themselves and build relations with other faiths.

"Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the church's mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition," Benedict said.

He added that this courage means building "new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures, and thus to enrich the fabric of society. It also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to lay down our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify taking innocent lives."


Jordanian King and Queen receive Benedict XVI


Benedict XVIs visit to the Regina Pacis Centre


Pope Benedict Celebrates Mass at Jordanian Stadium