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Pope expresses fears for Iraqi Christians

Pope Benedict XVI lamented the suffering of Christians in Iraq, and their steady exodus from that country, during a June 21 conversation with an Iraqi Orthodox leader.

The Pope remarked that Christians are "suffering both materially and spiritually" in the Middle East, the birthplace of the faith. "Particularly in Iraq," he said, "Christian families and communities are feeling increasing pressure from insecurity, aggression and a sense of abandonment. Many of them see no other possibility than to leave the country and to seek a new future abroad."

The Holy Father expressed his concerns in a meeting with Mar Dinkha IV, the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East. The Assyrian Church of the East has close historical ties with the Chaldean Catholic Church, the during his meeting with the Patriarch the Pope dwelt at length upon the quest for restored unity among the Christian faithful.

Pope Benedict recalled that in 1994, Mar Dinkha IV had met with Pope John Paul II, and signed a declaration ending centuries-old theological disputes, and establishing a joint theological commission to resolve other disagreements. The Pope prayed that God would provide a successful conclusion to those theological talks, "so that together we can bear clearer witness to Him."

Meanwhile, the Pontiff said, the immediate struggles of all Christians in Iraq "are a source of great concern to me, and I wish to express my solidarity with the pastors and the faithful of the Christian communities who remain there, often at the price of heroic sacrifices."

With thousands of Eastern Christians leaving their native lands and living in the West, the Pope observed, they face new challenges to their religious identity. At the same time, he remarked, "when Christians from the East and West live side by side, they have a precious opportunity to enrich one another and to understand more fully the catholicity of the Church."

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