Pope Benedict XVI met with members of an Eastern Catholic aid organization on June 24, urging them to concentrate on the survival of threatened Christian populations in the Middle East.
“I ask you to do everything possible,” Pope Benedict told members of the Reunion of Organizations for Aid to the Oriental Churches (ROACO), “to ensure that the pastors and faithful of Christ can remain in the East where they were born, not as strangers but as citizens who bear witness to Jesus Christ as the saints of the Eastern Churches did before them.”
ROACO, which coordinates the work of several agencies providing funds to the Eastern Catholic churches, began four days of meetings in Rome on June 21. The Pope's remarks to the group on Friday – one day after the Feast of Corpus Christi – placed an emphasis on the sacramental life of the Eastern churches.
“Never forget the Eucharistic dimension of your objective,” the Pope told the members of the charitable coalition, “so as to remain within the ambit of ecclesial charity, which particularly seeks to reach the Holy Land, but also the Middle East as a whole, in order to support the Christian presence there.”
While interceding with God for these communities, advocates for the Middle Eastern churches should also “be intervening with the public authorities … at the international level,” asking their protection for Christian minorities.
“The East is their earthly homeland,” the Pope reflected. “It is there that they are called today to promote, without distinction, the good of all mankind.” He said Middle Eastern Christians “must be recognized as having equal dignity and true freedom, thus favoring more fruitful ecumenical and inter-religious collaboration.”
Pope Benedict told ROACO's representatives that they represented a human bond between the Holy See and the churches of the Arab world.
“The Pope wishes to express his closeness, also through you, to those who are suffering and to those who are trying desperately to escape,” he stated, expressing his hope “that the necessary emergency assistance will be forthcoming” for them.
But the Pope's most fervent prayer for the Middle East, as he explained, is that “every possible form of mediation will be explored, so that violence may cease and social harmony and peaceful coexistence may everywhere be restored, with respect for the rights of individuals as well as communities.”