Pope appeals for Mid-East calm

Pope Benedict XVI has called for an
urgent international effort to resolve tensions in the Middle East, at the end
of a three-day trip to Cyprus.

The Pope used the trip to draw
attention to the plight of Christians in the region, whom he said were being
both persecuted and ignored.

He ended the visit with a Mass
attended by Middle Eastern pilgrims.

A lethal Israeli raid on a ship
trying to break the Gaza blockade has focussed attention on the Middle East
conflict.

“I reiterate my personal
appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing
tensions in the Middle East, especially before such conflicts lead to greater
bloodshed,” the Pope said at Mass on Sunday.

‘First to suffer’

After the Mass, the pontiff
distributed a working paper ahead of a synod for Middle Eastern bishops in Rome
in October.

“The Israeli occupation of
Palestinian territories is creating difficulties in everyday life, inhibiting
freedom of movement, the economy and religious life,” the document said.

“Certain Christian fundamentalist
theologies used sacred scripture to justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine,
making the position of Christian Arabs an even more sensitive issue,” it
added.

The paper cited the Israeli-Palestian
conflict and the social and political situations in Iraq and Lebanon as reasons
for the emigration of Christians from the Middle East.

“International politics
oftentimes pays no attention to the existence of Christians and the fact that
they are victims, at times the first to suffer, goes unnoticed,” it said.

The day before the Pope arrived in
Turkey a Catholic bishop, Luigi Padovese, was murdered in Turkey. Benedict
spoke of his “profound sadness” at the killing.