08/02/2006, 00.00
VATICAN - MIDDLE EAST
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"Heart full of sorrow", pope urges prayer and effective action in Middle East

At a special audience for ministrants, Benedict XVI condemned the massacre in Qana and the "spilling of innocent blood from whichever part it comes". He called on 35,000 altar servers to be "witnesses" of nearness to Jesus, and to heed calls to the priesthood.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – With "a heart full of sorrow" and the "chilling images of mangled bodies of so many people, especially children," before his eyes, Benedict XVI appealed once again for prayers "for the dear, martyred region of the Middle East", for more effective commitment from the international community for an "immediate cessation of all hostilities" and for "conditions for a definitive political solution to the crisis".

Recalling in particular the massacre in Qana in Lebanon, the pope said: "I wish to repeat that nothing can justify the spilling of innocent blood, no matter from which part it comes!"

Benedict XVI emphasized that only a "definitive political solution to the crisis" will be capable of "delivering a more serene and safe future for generations to come".

Since the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah started on the Israeli-Lebanese border, the pope has not let one public occasion pass by without repeating his appeal for an end to hostilities by Israel and Hezbollah. He has urged a quest for conditions of lasting peace, the safeguarding of the security of Israel and Lebanese sovereignty and guarantees for a homeland for the Palestinians.

Today's event was a special audience by Benedict XVI for more than 35,000 ministrants (altar boys and choir singers) coming from all over the world. It is also his first audience in St Peter's Square after his summer break.

The international meeting of ministrants was organized by the Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium, a group set up in Altenberg (Cologne, Germany) in 1960 and dedicated to the spiritual formation of lay people committed to liturgical service.

Speaking in German – 30,000 of those present were from Germany – the pope reminded them that serving at the altar "is a witness" of "nearness" to Jesus. "If you remain united to Jesus and his words remain in you, then you will truly be his apostles and will take the fruit of good and of service into every area of your life: family, school and free time. Bear that love you receive in the Liturgy to all, especially where you see that love is lacking."

Quoting the words of John's Gospel ("I do not call you servants but friends: remain in my love and you will bear much fruit." cfr Jn 15:9 -16), the pope also asked the young ministrants to be attentive to the voice of Jesus.

"Listen to that voice! Listen to it with great availability," he added, "if it calls you to give yourselves without any reservations to the life of the priesthood. Listen to it with faith whatever the road of your vocation may be, because Christ wants to establish ties of friendship with you too, as he did with Simon, who he called Peter, with Andrew, James, John and the other Apostles."

At the end, the pope delivered greetings in several languages.

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