Pope: Respect Mideast Christians’ rights

ROME (JTA) — Pope Benedict XVI renewed calls for international efforts toward Middle East peace and urged respect for the embattled Christian minority in the region.

Before returning to the Vatican Sunday following an official visit to Cyprus, the pope presented a Vatican document that said "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the resulting instability throughout the region" was one factor making life difficult for Christians in the region.

"The menacing social situation in Iraq and the political instability of Lebanon further intensify the phenomenon," the Vatican document added.

The 45-page document, based on responses to a detailed questionnaire, was prepared for a special assembly of bishops called to address the situation of Christians in the Middle East that is due to take place at the Vatican in October.

The document rejected anti-Semitism but criticized Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

"The Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories is creating difficulties in everyday life, inhibiting freedom of movement, the economy and religious life — access to the holy places is dependent on military permission, which is granted to some and denied to others on security grounds," it said. "Moreover, certain Christian fundamentalist theologies use sacred Scripture to justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine, making the position of Christian Arabs an even more sensitive issue."  

The document called for dialogue among all faiths in the region and also highlighted the Christian minority’s difficulties with Islam.

"Oftentimes, relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, principally because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics, thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens," the document said.

Addressing Christians in a speech in Nicosia presenting the document, the pope said Christians in the Middle East "want to live in peace and harmony with your Jewish and Muslim neighbors." He said it was his "serious hope that your rights are increasingly respected, including the right to freedom of worship and religious freedom, and that you will never again suffer discrimination of any kind."

The pope added, "I pray that the work of the Special Assembly will help to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs, so that just and lasting solutions may be found to the conflicts that cause so much hardship. On this grave matter, I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed."

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