01/18/2008, 00.00
VATICAN - HOLY LAND

Pope: May dialogue triumph in the Holy Land, and may there be true religious freedom everywhere

Receiving the bishops of the CELRA, Benedict XVI highlights his closeness to the Christians of the land where Jesus lived, and asks for support for those who decide to remain there. Their coexistence with Jews and Muslims could foster mutual understanding, "necessary to encourage ever greater respect for human dignity, the equality of rights and duties of persons and a renewed attention to the needs of all".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Those who have responsibility" in the Middle East, and in particular in the Holy Land, must take the path of dialogue and put an end to violence, thus allowing Christians to remain and return there, because the places where Jesus lived are not only archaeological sites, but the site of living communities. This is the anguished appeal that Benedict XVI renewed today, in his address to the Latin bishops of the Arab regions (CELRA), received for its five year "ad limina" visit.

The Catholics of the Holy Land, in the pope's words, in addition to keeping alive the presence of the disciples of Christ in the land in which he lived, have two more fundamental tasks: to seek unity with other Christians, and to deepen their mutual understanding and coexistence with Jews and Muslims, in part to obtain "equality of rights and duties" and so that authentic religious freedom, "a primordial right of every human being" may be "observed everywhere, and that there be no obstacle to the right of each one to practise freely his own religion, or to change it".

The pope, in the first place, is "spiritually close" to the Christians of the region, and "shares [their] hopes and fears", in a region where "the endless eruption of violence, lack of security, and hatred make  coexistence very difficult, sometimes seeming to threaten the very survival of the communities". This represents "a serious challenge" to the ministry of the bishops, and must drive them to bring strength and support to the faith of their little communities, and to be close to them "in the trials" that they must face.

Although in the current situation, "it is understandable that Christians would at times be driven to leave their country to find an hospitable country", "in spite of this, it is necessary to strongly encourage and support those who decide to remain faithful to their land, that it may not become an archaeological site devoid of ecclesial life. By developing a solid fraternal life, they will find support in their trials".

On the other hand, "the encounter with persons of other religions, Jewish and Muslim, is for you a daily reality. In your countries, the quality of relations among believers takes on unique significance, being at the same time a witness to the one God and a contribution to the creation of more fraternal relations among persons and among the different segments of your societies. Better mutual understanding is necessary to encourage ever greater respect for human dignity, the equality of rights and duties of persons and a renewed attention to the needs of all, especially the poorest". The pope acknowledged the commitment of the Christian communities to this last task, but emphasised that "supporting Christian families must remain a priority for you; these face many challenges such as religious relativism, materialism, and all the threats against the moral values of family and society".

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