The Parliament Blog

Pope Urges Interfaith Dialogue in Mideast, Defends Religious Freedom

Pope Benedict XVI signs his apostolic exhortation on the church’s concerns in the Middle East during his visit to St. Paul’s Basilica in Harissa, Lebanon, Sept. 14. The document summarizing the conclusion of the 2010 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East was presented by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, left. (CNS/Paul Haring)

by Francis X. Rocca
from Catholic News Service

BEIRUT (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI signed a major document calling on Catholics in the Middle East to engage in dialogue with Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim neighbors, but also to affirm and defend their right to live freely in the region where Christianity was born.

In a ceremony at the Melkite Catholic Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa Sept. 14, Pope Benedict signed the 90-page document of his reflections on the 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which was dedicated to Christians in the Middle East. He was to formally present the document Sept. 16 at an outdoor Mass in Beirut.

A section dedicated to interreligious dialogue encouraged Christians to “esteem” the region’s dominant religion, Islam, lamenting that “both sides have used doctrinal differences as a pretext for justifying, in the name of religion, acts of intolerance, discrimination, marginalization and even of persecution.”

Yet in a reflection of the precarious position of Christians in most of the region today, where they frequently experience negative legal and social discrimination, the pope called for Arab societies to “move beyond tolerance to religious freedom.”

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