Benedict XVI assured Catholics of the Middle East that they are not alone, and that they are always accompanied by the Holy See and the entire Church.

The Pope said this today in his homily at the solemn closing of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in St. Peter’s. The two-week synod, which gathered together some 170 synod fathers to discuss the situation of the Church in the region, reflected on the theme: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.”

“May the experience of these days assure you that you are never alone,” the Holy Father said at the end of his homily, in which he recalled that the Church was “born in Jerusalem, spread through the Middle East and then the rest of the world.”

The Pontiff expressed a “deep gratitude toward God who has afforded us this truly extraordinary experience, not just for us, but for the good of the Church, for the People of God who live in the lands between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.”

“We have shared a powerful moment of ecclesial communion,” he continued. “We now leave each other so that each may return to his own mission, but we know that we remain united, we remain in his love.”

Benedict XVI also expressed the hope that the experience of ecclesial communion would also favor progress in ecumenical dialogue.

“As today’s Gospel reminded us, we need humility, in order to recognize our limitations, our errors and omissions, in order to be able to truly be ‘united, heart and soul,'” he said. “A fuller communion within the Catholic Church favors ecumenical dialogue with other Churches and ecclesial communities as well.

“The Catholic Church reiterated in this synodal meeting its deep conviction to pursuing such dialogue as well, so that the prayer of the Lord Jesus might be completely fulfilled: ‘May they all be one.'”

Regarding the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East, the Pope assured them that “even if they are few, they are bearers of the Good News of the love of God for man, love which revealed itself in the Holy Land in the person of Jesus Christ.”

He reminded Christians that they are “full-fledged citizens” and that they “can and must do their part” in society to become “builders of peace and apostles of reconciliation.”

“Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East,” the Holy Father continued. “Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts.

“We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life of dignity for human beings and society.

“Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East.”

“Pray,” he urged, “for the peace of Jerusalem. We pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for peace in the Middle East, undertaking to try to ensure that this gift of God to men of goodwill should spread through the whole world.”

Benedict XVI affirmed that another contribution that Christians offer society is the promotion of freedom of religion and conscience, which he said is “one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect.”

“In numerous countries of the Middle East there exists freedom of belief, while the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited,” he said. “Increasing this space of freedom becomes essential to guarantee to all the members of the various religious communities the true freedom to live and profess their faith.”