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Pope Francis urges Christians in the Middle East to keep faith

By on Thursday, 26 June 2014

Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople planting an olive tree in the Vatican Gardens (CNS)

Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople planting an olive tree in the Vatican Gardens (CNS)

Pope Francis has urged Christians in the Middle East to continue to have hope, despite the dangers they are currently facing.

Despite “grievous attacks” around the world, peace can always flourish through God’s grace and people’s loving generosity, Pope Francis said. “Never falter in their conviction that the fire of Pentecost, the power of love, can halt the fire of arms, hatred and vengeance.”

Meeting earlier today with members of ROACO, a coalition of funding agencies coordinated by the Congregation for Eastern Churches, the Pope told them he was “grateful that you continue to ‘make peace grow’ through charity.”

Even though true peace is a gift from God, he said, “with unity and charity, Christ’s disciples strive to be peacemakers everywhere, in all peoples and communities, and to overcome persistent forms of discrimination, starting with those based on religion.”

The Congregation for Eastern Churches and the coalition of funding agencies are responsible for assisting Eastern-rite churches around the world as well as the Latin-rite church in the Holy Land.

The Pope said that “first among those called to be peacemakers are our brothers and sisters of the Eastern churches, together with their pastors.”

“Hoping at times against all hope,” those Christians who remain in the lands where the Gospel was first proclaimed need the support of the universal church, he said.

“Their tears and their anguish are ours, as well as their hope,” he said. “We can express this through our solidarity, if it is one which is concrete and effective, capable of ensuring that the international community upholds the rights of individuals and peoples.”

Pope Francis told the participants that his May pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories “was a great source of consolation, but also of encouragement and a renewed sense of responsibility for the advancement of full unity among Christians and of dialogue between religions.”

He said he hoped his journey would, “like a good seed, bring forth abundant fruit.”

Referring to the olive tree he planted in the Vatican Gardens together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Pope said the tree was a symbol of secure and lasting peace “only because it is cultivated by many hands.”

The Pope told the gathering that he felt especially close to those in Syria and Iraq and highlighted the Church’s closeness to “the beloved people of Ukraine in the critical situation in which they find themselves, and to the people of Romania.”

That closeness, he said, is made concrete through the generosity of the various funding agencies, which include the New York-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Together the agencies offer relief and basic assistance to those most in need, he said, especially “those who are powerless and most vulnerable, as well as the many young people tempted to leave their homeland.”

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