03/26/2006, 00.00
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Pope: Consistory is near to Christians persecuted and killed for their faith

Benedict XVI directed cardinals to the example of the martyrs and expressed encouragement, solidarity and prayer for Christians suffering restrictions on their freedom of worship. The pope has written to Karzai to plead for the life of a converted Afghan condemned to death for apostasy in Islam.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI once more talked about the Consistory and the "spiritual richness of collegiality" in "being among brothers of different origin, all sharing a common love for Christ and for his Church". But he dwelt especially on a "providential coincidence": 24 March, the day he conferred the red hat on 15 bishops and archbishops, was the day of prayer and fasting for missionary martyrs, "who in the past year fell on the frontline of evangelization and in the service of mankind in different parts of the world". He said: "The Consistory was an opportunity to feel closer than ever to all those Christians who suffer persecution because of their faith. Their witness, which we are informed of daily, and above all the sacrifice of those who were killed, are edifying for us and urge us to an ever more sincere and generous Gospel commitment." The pope also recalled that the red colour of the Cardinal's vestments, "the colour of blood", indicated the "fidelity" and readiness of cardinals to spread the Gospel "to the point of sacrificing one's life".

Among the new cardinals, there was Joseph Zen, bishop of Hong Kong, who drew attention to the suffering of the Church in China. There was also Nicholas Cheong, archbishop of Seoul and apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, where the Church is suffocated by the regime of Kim Jong-il. In recalling the many persecuted Churches, the pope added: "My thoughts turn especially to those communities living in countries where freedom of worship is lacking or where, despite affirmations on paper, it is in reality submitted to many restrictions. I send heartfelt encouragement to them to persevere in the patience and charity of Christ, the seed of the Kingdom of God that is to come, no, that is already in the world. To all those who work in the service of the Gospel in these difficult situations, I want to express my most vivid solidarity in the name of all the Church, and also to assure them that I remember them daily in my prayers."

Bearing out a constant concern for those who are persecuted, only yesterday, the press office of the Holy See issued a letter sent by Benedict XVI to the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, pleading for the life of Ahmed Rashid, a Christian convert from Islam, condemned to death by Islamic courts of Afghanistan for apostasy.

Ending his reflections before the Angelus prayer, Benedict XVI said: "The Church advances in history and is spreading across the earth, accompanied by Mary, Queen of the Apostles. As in the Cenacolo, the Blessed Virgin remains, for Christians, the living memory of Jesus. It is she who animates our prayer and sustains hope. We ask her to guide us in our daily journey and to protect especially those Christian communities in conditions of greater difficulties and suffering."

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