This morning at the Vatican, the Pope met with the Catholic bishops from Arab regions of the world and called upon all Catholics to help Arab Christians to remain in their countries.
The prelates who spoke with Benedict XVI are from the Conference of Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions (CELRA), whose president is His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins.
In his talk to them, the Pope recalled how their episcopal conference "comprises many different situations in which the faithful, natives of many different countries, often live in small communities within societies chiefly composed of believers from other religions".
The Holy Father reassured the bishops that he shared "the concerns and hopes" of their people, noting how "the constant cycle of violence, insecurity and hatred makes coexistence very difficult, and can give rise to fears for the survival of your communities".
The situation of violence, insecurity and hatred should be an occasion for the bishops to help strengthen the faith and brotherhood amongst the Christian community, the Pope said. This experience of unity will give Christians hope that “is founded on the certainty that the Lord never abandons those who turn to Him".
The Holy Father also addressed the tendency for Christians to leave their countries in search of a better life: “it is necessary to give firm encouragement and support to those who decide to remain faithful to their land, in order to ensure it does not become an archaeological site without an ecclesial life," he said.
To prevent the Holy Land and other areas under the scourge of violence from being emptied of Christians, the Pope gave guarantees of his support for the initiatives taken by the bishops "to contribute to creating socio-economic conditions that may help Christians remain in their own countries", and asked that "the entire Church to support such efforts".
"The vocation of Christians in your countries is of particular importance", he observed. "As builders of peace and justice, they represent the living presence of Christ Who came to reconcile the world with the Father and to bring all His lost children together. Hence the need to reaffirm and develop true communion and serene and respectful collaboration between Catholics of different rites. This will constitute an eloquent sign for other Christians and for the rest of society".
For Catholics in those lands, "meeting members of other religions, Jews and Muslims, is a daily occurrence", said the Pope, noting that "the quality of relations between believers is particularly important, being both a testimony to the one God and a contribution to establishing more fraternal relations between individuals and between the various components of your societies". Another vital factor, he stressed, is "broader mutual knowledge so as to favor ever great respect for human dignity and for equality of rights".
In this context, the Pope expressed his "deep desire" that "authentic religious liberty should be in effect everywhere, and that the right of each person to practice his or her religion, or to change it, should not hindered", because such "is the primordial right of every human being".
The Holy Father asked the prelates to give "priority" attention to helping Christian families, who "face numerous challenges such as religious relativism, materialism and a series of threats to social and moral values". He also praised the efforts of Catholic institutions and religious in the fields of education, healthcare and assistance to the needy.
"I wish to restate my solidarity with those people in your regions who suffer so many forms of violence", the Pope concluded. "You may count on the solidarity of the Universal Church.”