Pope laments plight of Middle East Christians; urges global response

(Photo: REUTERS / Tony Gentile)Pope Francis greets cardinals at the end of a mass for the beatification of former pope Paul VI in St. Peter's square at the Vatican October 19, 2014. Former pope Paul VI who led the Roman Catholic Church during one of its most turbulent modern periods and enshrined its opposition to contraception, will be beatified by Pope Francis at the Vatican. Beatification is the last step before sainthood. The late pope's move towards canonization was made possible when the Vatican recognized a miracle concerning a pregnant woman in California whose child was at risk of dying. After praying to Paul VI, the child survived.

Pope Francis has expressed grief at the continued persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria and he is encouraging Christians around the world to rally behind the refugees driven away by extremists.

Speaking at the consistory of the College of Cardinals, Francis said Monday that Christians in Iraq and Syria face a situation of an "unimaginable scale" stemming from their problems.

"We share a desire for peace and stability in the Middle East, and the will to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue, reconciliation and political commitment.

"At the same time, we would like to give all the help possible to Christian communities to support them in remaining in the region," Francis said in his remarks at the consistory, a meeting of cardinals.

"We cannot resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for over two thousand years," he said, the Vatican news service said.

Francis said he was alarmed at the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East that he personally sought to include a discussion on the issue during the scheduled consistory of the College of Cardinals.

"Many of our brothers and sisters are brutally persecuted and driven from their homes. It seems that an awareness of the value of human life has been lost; it as is if people do not count and can be sacrificed to other interests," said Francis.

"This unjust situation requires, aside from our constant prayer, an adequate response on the part of the international community."

He also dispatched Cardinal Fernando Filoni to the Middle East to visit the refugees in Iraq and Syria, and talk to leaders to ensure their safety.

The Pope also called all apostolic nuncios - ambassadors of the Holy See - to an emergency meeting to consider solutions in the crisis affecting Christians there.

Cardinals and patriarchs at the consistory recounted horrors Christians encounter, noting it is important for people there to ensure the protection of their religious freedom, among other concerns.

Participants examined ways for urging Christians not to flee the region, as thousands of them seek a way out of the strife-torn area.

"I am sure that, with the Lord's help, today's meeting will produce valid reflections and suggestions to enable us to help our brothers who suffer and also to face the crisis of the reduction of the Christian presence in the land where Christianity was born and from where it spread," the Pope said.

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