Papal Message to Catholics in Mideast
"Peace Warrants Great Sacrifices on the Part of All"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of
Benedict XVI's Dec. 21message to Catholics living in the Middle East.
* * *
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
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, resolute in bearing witness to their
faith with their specific identity in the societies in which they are situated.
They wish to contribute in a constructive manner to the urgent needs of their
respective societies and the whole region. Saint Peter, writing his
First Letter to a rather poor and marginalized community, persecuted and
held in little regard by the society of that time, did not hesitate to say
that their difficult situation should be considered a "grace" (cf. 1 Pt 1:7--11).
In fact, is it not a grace to be able to participate in the sufferings of
Christ, uniting oneself to the action with which he took unto himself our
sins in order to atone for them? May Catholic communities, often living
in difficult situations, be aware of the powerful force which emanates from
suffering accepted with love. Such suffering can change the hearts
of others and the heart of the world. I encourage each of you therefore
to carry on with perseverance, comforted by the knowledge of the "price"
with which Christ has redeemed us (cf. 1 Cor 6:20). Certainly, the
response to one's Christian vocation is much more difficult for the members
of minority communities, often numerically of little significance.
Nevertheless, as your Patriarchs wrote in their Pastoral Letter of Easter
1992, "the light can be faint in a house yet lighten up the whole house.
Salt is a negligible element in foods, but it is salt which gives them flavour.
Very little yeast is in dough, yet it is the leaven which prepares it to
become bread." In making these words my own I encourage the Catholic
Bishops to persevere in their ministry, cultivating unity among themselves
and always remaining close to their flock. Know that the Pope shares
the concerns, hopes and exhortations expressed in their annual pastoral letters,
and also in the daily exercise of their sacred duties. He encourages
them in their effort to sustain and reinforce in faith, hope and charity
the flock entrusted to them. The presence of their communities in the
various countries of the region constitutes, among other things, something
which can greatly encourage ecumenism.
For some time now it has become clear that many Christians are leaving the
Middle East, to such an extent that the Holy Places are at risk of being
reduced to archaeological sites, void of any ecclesial life. Undoubtedly,
minorities find it difficult to survive in the midst of dangerous geopolitical
situations, cultural conflicts, economic and strategic interests, and forms
of aggression which claim justification from a social or religious basis.
In fact, many Christians eventually give in to the temptation to emigrate.
Often the damage done is practically irreparable. One must not forget,
however, that simply being together and living through common suffering has
a healing effect on wounds and disposes people to thoughts and deeds of reconciliation
and peace. This in turn gives rise to a habitual, fraternal dialogue,
which in time and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, can become a broader
dialogue in the cultural, social and political spheres. Believers moreover
are confidently aware of a hope that does not delude, because it is rooted
in the presence of the Risen One. From him comes the commitment of
faith and our active love of neighbour (cf. 1 Th 1:3). Even in the
most distressing situations Christian hope teaches us that passive resignation
and pessimism are the great threat which can thwart the unfolding of our
baptismal vocation. They bring about distrust, fear, self--pity, fatalism
In the present situation Christians are called to be courageous and steadfast
in the power of the Spirit of Christ, knowing that they can count on the
closeness of their brothers and sisters in the faith scattered throughout
the world. Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, declares that there is
no comparison between the sufferings of this present time and the future
glory that awaits us (cf. 8:18). Likewise Saint Peter, in his First
Letter reminds us that we Christians, even when afflicted by various trials,
have a higher hope that fills our heart with joy (cf. 1:6). Saint Paul
again, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians states with conviction that
"the God of all consolation… comforts us in all our affliction, so that we
may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction" (1:3--4). We
know well that the consolation promised by the Holy Spirit does not consist
merely of nice words, but in a broadening of mind and heart, that allows
us to understand our own situation in the wider picture of all creation labouring
in the act of giving birth while awaiting the revelation of the sons of God
(cf. Rom 8:19--25). From this perspective it is possible to think more
of our neighbour's sufferings than of our own, more of common ills than private
ones. We can strive to do something so that others may understand that
their sufferings are recognized and understood, and that we have the will,
as far as possible, to remedy them.
Through you, my dearly beloved, I wish to make an appeal to your fellow citizens,
men and women of the different Christian confessions, of different religions
and all who honestly seek peace, justice and solidarity by listening and
sincere dialogue. I say to you all: persevere with courage and trust!
I appeal to those who hold positions of responsibility in guiding events
to cultivate that sensitivity, attentiveness and closeness which surpasses
schemes and strategies so that they can build societies that are more peaceful
and just, truly respectful of every human being.
You are well aware, dear brothers and sisters, of my ardent desire that Providence
will allow me to make a pilgrimage to the Land made holy by the events of
Salvation History. I hope to be able to pray in Jerusalem, "the cherished
homeland of all the spiritual descendants of Abraham, who hold it so dearly"
(cf. John Paul II, Redemptionis Anno, AAS LXXVI, 1984, 625). I am convinced
that it can rise up as "a symbol of encounter, of union and peace for the
whole human family" (ibid p. 629). While we await the fulfilment of
this desire, I encourage you to continue along the path of trust, with acts
of friendship and good will. I refer both to the simple, daily deeds
practiced for years in your region by so many good and humble people who
have always treated others with consideration, and also to those deeds considered
heroic, inspired by authentic respect for human dignity and the desire to
find solutions to situations of grave hostility. Peace is such an important
and urgent good that it warrants great sacrifices on the part of all.
As my venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, wrote: "there is no peace
without justice". It is necessary therefore that the rights of all
be recognized and upheld. Pope John Paul II however added: "there is
no peace without forgiveness". Agreements opening the way to dialogue
and future cooperation are not normally reached without coming to terms with
past errors. In this case forgiveness is an indispensable condition
if we wish to be free to build a new future. Works of solidarity are
born and developed from forgiveness offered and received. Many such
initiatives have already been undertaken in your region by the Church, governments
and non--governmental organizations.
The song of the Angels over the stable of Bethlehem – "peace on earth to
those whom God loves" – takes on during these days its full meaning and produces
now those fruits that in eternal life will exist fully. I hope that
the Christmas season will be marked by an end to or at least a reprieve from
so much suffering. May it give to families that extra hope which is
necessary to persevere in the arduous task of promoting peace in a world
so wounded and divided. Dear brothers and sisters, be assured that
along this path you are accompanied by the fervent prayers of the Pope and
the whole Church. May the intercession and example of so many martyrs
and saints, who have given courageous witness to Christ in your lands, sustain
and strengthen you in your faith. And may the Holy Family of Nazareth
watch over your worthy resolutions and commitments.
With these sentiments, I cordially impart to each one of you a special Apostolic
Blessing as a pledge of my affection and closeness.
From the Vatican, 21 December 2006
[Translation issued by the Holy See]
© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana