Benedict XVI asks Christians not to leave the Middle East


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Vatican City, Jun 9, 2010 / 11:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During today's general audience in St. Peter's Square in Rome, the Holy Father warmly recalled several aspects of his "historic" trip to Cyprus last week, saying that the "culmination" of his visit was signing the working document for the Middle Eastern Synod of Bishops. He also noted that he pleaded with Christians not to leave the Holy Land and prayed for the soul of the recently slain bishop in Turkey.

The Pope first remembered his meeting with Cypriot civil authorities and diplomatic corps on June 5, where he "reiterated the importance of founding positive law on the ethical principles of natural law in order to promote moral truth in public life."

"This," he explained, "was an appeal to reason based on ethical principles, full of important implications for today's society which often no longer recognizes the cultural tradition upon which it is founded."

Visiting St. Maron primary school that same day, Pope Benedict said he was "able to witness personally the apostolic fervor of Cypriot Catholics. This is expressed through activities of education and assistance, with dozens of structures at the service of the community which are much appreciated by both the governmental authorities and by the population."

"During that same celebration," he added, "I was able to admire the apostolic commitment of the Latin community, guided by the solicitude of the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem and the pastoral zeal of the Friars Minor who serve the people with constant generosity."

The Holy Father then recalled the Mass he celebrated in the church of the Holy Cross, saying that he "made a heartfelt appeal to all the Catholics of the Middle East, despite their great trials and the difficulties they notoriously face, not to give in to discouragement and the temptation to emigrate, because their presence in the region represents an irreplaceable sign of hope."

"I gave them guarantees, especially to priests and religious, of the entire Church's affectionate and intense solidarity, and her incessant prayers that the Lord may help to ensure their presence always brings life and peace."

Pope Benedict then remarked that the "culminating moment" of his apostolic trip, was "the consignment of the 'Instrumentum laboris' of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops" on June 6.

During that time, he noted, "we prayed together for the soul of the late Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the Turkish Episcopal Conference, whose sudden and tragic death left us pained and distressed."

Bishop Padovese was stabbed to death in Iskendurun, Turkey by his driver last week. According to Italy's ANSA news agency, Turkish police have detained the alleged killer and have not yet established a motive. However, some reports indicate that the driver yelled "Allahu Akbar" after he killed the bishop.

Commenting on the upcoming Synod for Middle Eastern bishops in October, the Holy Father said the event will "be accompanied by the prayerful affection of the entire Church." The Middle East, he added, "occupies a special place" in the Church's heart, "being the place where God made Himself known to our fathers in the faith."

"There will also," he continued, "be no lack of attention from the other components of global society, especially important figures in public life who are called to work constantly so the region can overcome the situations of suffering and conflict that still afflict it, and finally rediscover peace in justice."

Benedict XVI also remembered being "happy" to visit the "the Maronite cathedral of Cyprus, where Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Lebanon, was also present." The Maronites, he explained, came to Cyprus at various times, "and often suffered difficult trials in order to remain faithful to their specific Christian tradition, the history and art of which represent a cultural heritage for all humankind."

In his concluding remarks, the Pope said that "the Cypriot Catholic community in its various ramifications - Maronite, Armenian and Latin - incessantly seeks to be of a single heart and a single soul, both in itself and in its cordial and constrictive relations with our Orthodox brothers and with other Christian groups."

"May the Cypriot people and the other nations of the Middle East, with their political leaders and the representatives of the various religions, together build a future of peace, friendship and fraternal collaboration."