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Sunday, June 6, 2010


VATICAN CITY, 5 JUN 2010 (VIS) - This afternoon in Nicosia, the Pope met with Sheikh Mehmet Nazim Adil Al-Haquani, an 89-year-old Cypriot Muslim leader active in the field of inter-religious dialogue.

  The brief meeting took place outside the apostolic nunciature, before the Holy Father's Mass in the church of the Holy Cross. Sheikh Al-Haquani explained how he lived in northern Cyprus and had come especially to greet the Pontiff. According to Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., the sheikh had excused himself for awaiting the Pope seated. "I am very old", he said, to which the Pope replied, "I am old too".

  Sheikh Al-Haquani gave the Pope a cane, a plaque with the word "peace" written in Arabic and a Muslim rosary. For his part, the Pope gave him a medal of his pontificate. The two men then exchanged an embrace. Before separating, the sheikh asked the Pope to pray for him, to which the Pope replied: "Of course I will, we will pray for one another".
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VATICAN CITY, 5 JUN 2010 (VIS) - At 4.30 p.m. today the Pope celebrated the Eucharist in the church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, Cyprus, in the presence of priests, religious and representatives of local ecclesial movements.

  In his homily during the votive Mass for the Holy Cross, the Holy Father affirmed that the Cross "is something far greater and more mysterious than it at first appears. It is indeed an instrument of torture, suffering and defeat, but at the same time it expresses the complete transformation, the definitive reversal of these evils: that is what makes it the most eloquent symbol of hope that the world has ever seen. It speaks to all who suffer - the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the victims of violence - and it offers them hope that God can transform their suffering into joy, their isolation into communion, their death into life. It offers unlimited hope to our fallen world.

  "That", he added, "is why the world needs the Cross. The Cross is not just a private symbol of devotion, it is not just a badge of membership of a certain group within society, and in its deepest meaning it has nothing to do with the imposition of a creed or a philosophy by force. It speaks of hope, it speaks of love, it speaks of the victory of non-violence over oppression, it speaks of God raising up the lowly, empowering the weak, conquering division, and overcoming hatred with love. A world without the Cross would be a world without hope, a world in which torture and brutality would go unchecked, the weak would be exploited and greed would have the final word. Man's inhumanity to man would be manifested in ever more horrific ways, and there would be no end to the vicious cycle of violence. Only the Cross puts an end to it".

  The Holy Father went on: "While no earthly power can save us from the consequences of our sins, and no earthly power can defeat injustice at its source, nevertheless the saving intervention of our loving God has transformed the reality of sin and death into its opposite. That is what we celebrate when we glory in the Cross of our Redeemer".

  Turning then to address priests, religious and catechists, the Pope highlighted how, "when we proclaim Christ crucified we are proclaiming not ourselves, but Him. ... Let us never cease to marvel at the extraordinary grace that has been given to us, let us never cease to acknowledge our unworthiness, but at the same time let us always strive to become less unworthy of our noble calling, lest through our faults and failings we weaken the credibility of our witness".

  Benedict XVI made particular mention of "the many priests and religious in the Middle East who are currently experiencing a particular call to conform their lives to the mystery of the Lord's Cross. Through the difficulties facing their communities as a result of the conflicts and tensions of the region, many families are taking the decision to move away, and it can be tempting for their pastors to do likewise.

  "In situations of this kind, though, a priest, a religious community, a parish that remains steadfast and continues to bear witness to Christ is an extraordinary sign of hope, not only for the Christians but for all who live in the region", he concluded. "Their presence alone is an eloquent expression of the Gospel of peace, the determination of the Good Shepherd to care for all the sheep, the Church's unyielding commitment to dialogue, reconciliation and loving acceptance of the other. By embracing the Cross that is held out to them, the priests and religious of the Middle East can truly radiate the hope that lies at the heart of the mystery we are celebrating in our liturgy today".

  Following the Mass, the Pope went to the apostolic nunciature, where he dined and spent the night.
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VATICAN CITY, 6 JUN 2010 (VIS) - This morning the Pope celebrated Mass at Nicosia's Eleftheria sports centre for the occasion of the publication of the "Instrumentum laboris" of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The centre has capacity for some six thousand people.

  The ceremony was attended by patriarchs and bishops of the various ecclesial communities of the Middle East and by a large number of Cypriot faithful. At the beginning of the ceremony Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus of the Maronites addressed some brief words of greeting to the Holy Father.

  In his homily, Benedict recalled the fact that today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, explaining how "the name given to this feast in the West, is used in the Church's tradition to designate three distinct realities: the physical body of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, His Eucharistic body, the bread of heaven which nourishes us in this great Sacrament, and His ecclesial body, the Church. By reflecting on these different aspects of the Corpus Christi, we come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of communion which binds together those who belong to the Church".

  "Each of us who belongs to the Church needs to abandon the closed world of our own individuality and accept the company of those who share the bread with us. ... This is why we daily pray to 'our' Father for 'our' daily bread. Breaking down the barriers between us and our neighbours is the first condition for us to enter into the divine life to which we are called. We need to be freed from everything that blocks and isolates us: fear and mistrust of one another, greed and selfishness, unwillingness to accept the risk of vulnerability to which we are exposed when we open ourselves to love".

  The Pope highlighted how "in the first Christian community, nourished at the Lord's table, we see the effects of the Holy Spirit's unifying action. They shared their goods in common, all material attachment being overcome by love for the brethren. ... Yet their love was by no means limited to their fellow believers. They never saw themselves as exclusive, privileged beneficiaries of divine favour, but rather as messengers, sent to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the ends of the earth. And so it was that the message entrusted to the Apostles by the Risen Lord was spread throughout the Middle East, and outwards from there across the whole of the world".

  "We are called to overcome our differences, to bring peace and reconciliation where there is conflict, to offer the world a message of hope. We are called to reach out to those in need, generously sharing our earthly goods with those less fortunate than ourselves. And we are called to proclaim unceasingly the death and resurrection of the Lord, until He comes".

  At the end of the Mass Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops thanked the Pope for having called the Special Assembly for the Middle East, which is due to be celebrated in the Vatican in October, and invited him to consign a copy of the "Instrumentum laboris", or working document, to the members of the Special Council for the Synod.

  Before praying the Angelus, Benedict XVI highlighted how "the Middle East has a special place in the hearts of all Christians, since it was there that God first made Himself known to our fathers in faith".

  "It is well known", he said, "that some of you suffer great trails due to the current situation in the region. The Special Assembly will be an opportunity for Christians of the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East".

  "You", the Pope told local Christians, "wish to live in peace and harmony with your Jewish and Muslim neighbours. Often you work alongside builders of peace in the difficult process of reconciliation, and you deserve recognition for the priceless role you play. It is my hope that your rights will always be respected, including the right to freedom of worship, and that your never suffer discrimination of any kind".

  "I pray that the work of the Special Assembly will help to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs, so that just and lasting solutions may be found to the conflicts that cause so much hardship. On this grave matter, I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed.

  "With these thoughts", he added in conclusion, "I now present to you the text of the 'Instrumentum laboris' of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops".

  After having prayed the Angelus the Pope mentioned a beatification ceremony being held today in Warsaw, Poland. "I send cordial greetings to the Church in Poland which today rejoices at the elevation to the altars of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko", he said. "His zealous service and his martyrdom are a special sign of the victory of good over evil. May his example and his intercession nourish the zeal of priests and enkindle the faithful with love".

  After the Eucharistic celebration, the Holy Father travelled back to the apostolic nunciature in Nicosia where he had lunch with members of his entourage, patriarchs and bishops of the Special Council of the Synod for the Middle East, and His Beatitude Chrysostomos II.
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VATICAN CITY, 6 JUN 2010 (VIS) - Given below are extracts of the English-language summary of the "Instrumentum laboris" of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.

  In the preface Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, underlines how many people consider that "the present-day situation in the Middle East is much like that of the primitive Christian community in the Holy Land", which had to face difficulties and persecution.

  The introduction underlines the principal aims of the Synod: firstly "to confirm and strengthen the members of the Catholic Church in their Christian identity, through the Word of God and the Sacraments"; and secondly "to foster ecclesial communion among the 'sui iuris' Churches, so that they can bear witness to Christian life in an authentic, joyous and attractive way".

  The first chapter focuses on the Catholic Church in the Middle East, recalling that all the Churches in the world "trace their roots to the Church of Jerusalem". ... It also recalls that the Churches of the Middle East are apostolic in origin and that it "would indeed be a great loss for the universal Church if Christianity were to disappear or be diminished in the very place where it was born". Here lies the "grave responsibility ... to maintain the Christian faith in these holy lands". ... Christians, then, despite their "low numbers", "are entitled to be a part of the fabric of society and identify themselves with their respective homelands. Their disappearance would mean a loss in the pluralism of the Middle East". Catholics are called to promote the concept of "positive secularism" of the State to "eliminate the theocratic character of government" and allow "greater equality among citizens of different religions, thereby fostering the promotion of a sound democracy, positively secular in nature, which fully acknowledges the role of religion, also in public life, while completely respecting the distinction between the religious and civil orders". ... The document then underlines the fact that regional conflicts make the situation of Christians even more fragile. "The Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories is creating difficulties in everyday life, inhibiting freedom of movement, the economy and religious life (access to the Holy Places is dependent on military permission which is granted to some and denied to others on security grounds). ... Christians are the main victims of the war in Iraq. ... In Lebanon, Christians are deeply divided at the political and confessional level". "In Egypt, the rise of political Islam, on the one hand, and the disengagement of Christians (forcefully at times) from civil society on the other, lead to severe difficulties". "In other countries, authoritarianism or dictatorships force the population, Christians included, to bear everything in silence so as to safeguard the essential aspects of living. In Turkey, the idea of 'secularism' is currently posing more problems for full religious freedom in the country". Christians are exhorted to remain strong in their commitment in society, despite being tempted to discouragement. "In the Middle East, freedom of religion customarily means freedom of worship and not freedom of conscience, that is, the freedom to believe or not believe, to practice openly one's religion, privately or publicly, or to change one's religion for another. Generally speaking, religion in the Middle East is a social and even a national choice, not an individual one. To change one's religion is perceived as a betrayal of the society, culture and nation, which are founded, for the most part, on a religious tradition". For this reason "conversion to Christianity is perceived to be from self-interest and not authentic religious conviction. Oftentimes, the conversion of Muslims is forbidden by State law". ... In the meantime, Islamic extremism continues to grow in the entire area creating "a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike". In this context of conflict, economic difficulties and political and religious limitations, Christians continue to emigrate. "International policies often pay no attention to the existence of Christians, and the fact that they are victims, at times the first to suffer, goes unnoticed. This is also a major cause of emigration".

  Chapter two is dedicated to ecclesial communion. ... "Communion within the universal Church - the document says - is principally manifested in two ways: in the first place, through Baptism and the Eucharist, and, secondly, through communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter, chief among the Apostles, 'permanent and visible source and foundation of the unity of faith and communion'". ... "Communion among the various members of the same Church or Patriarchate is based on the model of communion with the universal Church and the Successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome. At the level of the Patriarchal Church, communion is expressed by a Synod which gathers the bishops of an entire community around the Patriarch, the Father and Head of his Church. ... Christians are called to see themselves "as members of the Catholic Church in the Middle East and not simply as members of a particular Church".

  Chapter three deals with the theme of Christian witness, reiterating "the importance of catechesis in knowing and transmitting the faith", ... the urgent need for ecumenism, overcoming prejudices and mistrust through dialogue and collaboration. ... It rejects "a proselytism which employs means not in keeping with the Gospel". Mention is also made of relations with Judaism, "whose theological basis is to be found in Vatican Council II". Dialogue with the Jews is defined as essential, though "at times not without its obstacles" being affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Church hopes that "both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders". The document firmly rejects anti-Semitism, underlining that "current animosity between Arabs and Jews seems to be political in character" and therefore foreign to any ecclesial discussion. Christians are asked "to bring a spirit of reconciliation, based on justice and equality of the two parties. The Churches in the Middle East also call upon all involved to take into account the distinction between religion and politics". The Catholic Church's relations with Muslims also have their foundation in Vatican Council II. ... "Often relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics - the document states - thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam. The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognise religious freedom and human rights". Christians are called upon not to isolate "themselves in ghettos and a defensive and reclusive attitude which is sometimes seen in minority groups". ... In the conflict facing Middle Eastern countries, Christians are called upon to promote "the word of truth": This is "realistic. Although efforts on behalf of peace can be rebuffed, they also have the possibility of being accepted, considering that the path to violence, taken by both the strong and the weak, has led the Middle East to nothing but failure and a general stalemate". This situation is exploited by "the most radical elements in global terrorism". The contribution by Christians, "though requiring great courage, is nonetheless indispensable" even if "too often" Middle Eastern countries "identify Christianity with the West", bringing great harm to the Christian Churches. The document also analyses the strong impact of "modernity", which "to most Muslim believers is perceived to be atheistic and immoral and a cultural invasion, threatening them and upsetting their value-system". "At the same time, 'modernity' is the struggle for justice and equality, the defence of rights". ... "Christians have a special contribution to make in the area of justice and peace"; they have the duty to "courageously denounce violence no matter what its origin, and suggest solutions which can only be attained through dialogue", reconciliation and forgiveness. However Christians must "utilise peaceful means to insist that the rights of Christians be acknowledged by civil authorities". The document then examines the topic of evangelisation in a Muslim society which can only happen through witness: however, this must be "ensured through timely, external intervention". The charitable activities of Christian communities "towards all without distinction, to the poorest and those pushed to the periphery of society, represents the clearest way of spreading the Christian message".

  In its conclusion, the document points out the "great concern for the present difficulties Christians are facing, yet, at the same time express a hope, founded on the Christian faith". ... For decades, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disregard for international law, the selfishness of great powers and the lack of respect for human rights have disrupted the stability of the region and subjected entire populations to a level of violence which tempts them to despair. Many - Christians for the most part - are emigrating elsewhere. In the face of this challenge and sustained by the universal Christian community, Christians in the Middle East are called to respond to their vocation of service to society". Believers are called upon to be "witnesses ... aware that faithfully witnessing to Christ can lead to persecution". The Instrumentum Laboris concludes: "'Do not be afraid, little flock'. You have a mission; the growth of your country and the vitality of your Church depend on you. This will only be achieved with peace, justice and equality for all citizens!"
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