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Pope urges Christians, Jews and Muslims to work for peace
Pope Benedict XVI urged recently Christians, Jews and Muslims to work together to forge peace in the Middle East, upon the start of a two-week Vatican conference which lasts until Oct. 24 and includes as guests senior Jewish and Muslim leaders.
At a mass to denote the opening of a special synod of Catholic bishops, Benedict urged the three faiths to “promote spiritual and cultural values that unite people and exclude any form of violence,” according to the AFP.
In his sermon, Benedict urged the international community to champion “a trustworthy, loyal and constructive path towards peace” within the region, and added, “This is also a good occasion to continue our constructive dialogue with the Jews… as well as with the Muslims,” the AFP reported.
The pope called on church leaders from all over the Middle East to also discuss the Palestine-Israel issue and to discern ways to counter radical Islam, as well as examine church issues regarding the exodus of Christians from the Middle East, BBC News said.
According to a preparatory document, violence and discrimination against Christians in Egypt, Turkey and Iraq has also been singled out as an area of concern, the AFP said.
Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, who is charged with organizing synods, said in a news conference, “The vital dialogue with Judaism is one of the main objectives of the synod, along with the difficult but necessary dialogue with Islam,” the AFP reported.
Eterovic called Arab Christians “a natural bridge with Islam.” Of the Middle East conflict he said, “We hope we will be able to achieve peace and that the synod marks a step forward in this direction,” according to the AFP.
In the synod Arabic will be one of the official languages. The AFP said that while Muslim and Jewish leaders are slated to address the synod, they will do so on separate schedules and will not meet.
Eterovic said, “We want maximum visibility for the Catholic church in this region, which is so vital to Christian history and which has been hit by tensions, conflicts, religious and political upheaval in the past 2,000 years,” the AFP reported.
He also expressed concern that “difficult conditions” from violence and discrimination has led to a mass exodus of Christians from Iraq, according to BBC News.
Of note, a century before, Christians comprised 20 percent of the Middle East population. Today they are only five percent, BBC News reported. Out of some 356 million people in the Middle East, only 20 million are Christians, the AFP said.
Nonetheless, Eterovic also said that while many Arab, Iranian and Turkish Christians have fled, many Catholics have come to the Gulf States from India and the Philippines, BBC News said.