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Papal Message to Catholics in Mideast

"Peace Warrants Great Sacrifices on the Part of All"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Dec. 21 message to Catholics living in the Middle East.

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To My Beloved Brother Bishops, Priests and Lay Faithful in the Middle East

Bathed in the light of Christmas, we contemplate the presence of the Word who has pitched his tent among us. He is the "light that shines in the darkness" and that "gave us power to become children of God" (cf. Jn 1:5, 12). At this most significant time for the Christian faith, I wish to address a special word to you, Catholic brothers and sisters, who live in the Middle East region: I feel spiritually present in each of your particular Churches, even the smallest, sharing with you the worries and the hope with which you await the Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace. To all of you I say with the biblical greeting used by Saint Francis of Assisi: may the Lord give you peace.

I greet with affection the communities that are, or feel like, a "little flock" either due to the diminished numbers of their brothers and sisters (cf. Lk 12:32), or because they are immersed in a society composed of a majority of believers from other religions, or due to the serious hardships and difficulties being currently experienced by some of the nations in this area. I am thinking above all of countries marked by strained relations and often marred by brutally violent incidents which, as well as causing widespread destruction, strike without pity helpless and innocent people. The daily news coming from the Middle East shows a growth of alarming situations, seemingly with no possible escape. They are events which naturally give rise, in those involved, to recriminations and rage, leading them to thoughts of retaliation and revenge.

We know that these are not Christian sentiments; to give in to them would leave us callous and spiteful, far from that "gentleness and lowliness" which Jesus Christ proposed to us as the model of behaviour (cf. Mt 11:29). Indeed, we could lose the opportunity to make a properly Christian contribution to the solution of the grave problems of our time. It would not be at all wise, especially now, to spend our time asking who has suffered the most or presenting an account of injustices suffered, listing the reasons which reinforce one's own argument. This has often happened in the past, with results which to say the least were disappointing. Suffering in the end affects everyone, and when one person suffers he should first of all wish to understand how much someone else in a similar situation suffers. Patient and humble dialogue, achieved through listening to each other and being intent upon understanding someone else's situation has already born positive results in many countries previously devastated by violence and revenge. A little more trust in the compassion of others, especially those suffering, cannot but bear efficacious results. Today, many parties rightly plead for this interior disposition.

The Catholic communities in your countries are never far from my thoughts and in this season of Christmas I think of them with a heightened sense of concern. The star seen by the Magi brings us to your lands, the star which guided them to see the child with Mary his mother (cf. Mt 2:11). It is in the East that Jesus offered his life and "made the two into one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2:14). There he said to his disciples: "Go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). There the Master's disciples were for the first time called Christians (cf. Acts 11:26). There the Church of the great Fathers was born and grew, and varying and rich spiritual and liturgical traditions blossomed.

To you, dear brothers and sisters, heirs of these traditions, I express with affection my personal closeness in this situation of human insecurity, daily suffering, fear and hope which you are living. I repeat to your communities the words of the Redeemer: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give to you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32). You can rely on my full solidarity with you in your current circumstances. In this regard, I am sure that I speak for the universal Church. Thus neither individual Catholics nor their communities, should feel alone or abandoned. Your Churches are accompanied in their difficult journey by prayer and by the charitable support of the particular Churches throughout the whole world, according to the example and spirit of the early Church (cf. Acts 11:29--30).

In the present circumstances, marked little by light and too much by darkness, it is a cause of consolation and hope for me to know that the Christian communities in the Middle East, whose intense suffering I am well aware of, continue to be vital and active communities, ...

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