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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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Interfaith Work Remains Important to Protect Religious Minorities

Photo Credit to Getty Images

Coptic Christians demonstrating after conflicts in Egypt.

by John Bryson Chane
from The Washington Post

As Egyptians come to terms with the near-sweep of the Muslim Brotherhood in their new government, no one is more apprehensive of what this new government means than Egypt’s minority Christian population. The new president, Mohamed Morsi, has promised protection for minorities, but Coptic Christians in Egypt are still nervous about the future. And they are not alone. In countries across the Middle East, life for religious minorities is often uncertain; and as the violence of the Arab Spring continues, these groups remain at risk of persecution and discrimination.

But a gathering of Christian and Muslim faith leaders in Beirut last month gives me hope that religious leaders can play a role in speaking up for minority religions and negotiating conflicts between groups. The symbolism of holding such a meeting in Beirut is resonant and powerful. For Protestants and Catholics to come together with Shi’ites and Sunnis in a city so often shredded by sectarian violence sends a powerful message to faith communities and the world.

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