In a meeting with Catholic leaders across the Arab world, Pope Benedict has said he shares "the concerns and hopes" of the people of these regions, 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".
This situation, he told the prelates, "represents a serious challenge for your pastoral service and motivates you to strengthen the faith of believers and their sense of fraternal cohesion, so that everyone may experience a hope founded on the certainty that the Lord never abandons those who turn to him".
"It is understandable", the pontiff went on, "that sometimes circumstances force Christians to leave their country in search of a welcoming nation that enables them to live a better life. Nonetheless, 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".
To this end, 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 he asked "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... 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 favour ever great respect for human dignity and for equality of rights".
In this context, Benedict 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".