Pope Encourages Christians in Holy Land to Be Faithful

Pope Benedict XVI gave encouragement to Christians living in the Holy Land at an open-air Mass on Sunday attended by some 50,000 people.

Speaking inside the largest football stadium in Amman, Jordan, the Pope called on believers to "be faithful to your roots," but also to work with people from other religions and to oppose violent ideologies.

He said, "The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East.

"Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church's mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage – the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition."

Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians and Lebanese people all gathered for the Mass. During the Mass, the Pope blessed around 1,200 boys and girls, including 40 refugees from Iraq.

The Pope was welcomed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, who spoke of the "difficulties and obstacles" faced by Catholics in the area, such as the "immigration of Iraqis" who have fled to Jordan to escape war and persecution since the invasion in 2003.

Since the beginning of the Iraq war over 1 million Iraqis have fleed to Jordan. Of these, 40,000 are Christians fleeing from persecution.

On Monday, Pope Benedict arrived in Israel where he called for a the establishment of a "homeland" for both Palestinians and Israelis.

"The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace," he said. "In union with people of goodwill everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders."

Pope Benedict began an eight-day tour of the Middle East on Friday. This is his first papal tour of the Holy Land.

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