It was the instruction he gave today during an audience granted to the participants in the general chapter of the Sisters of Bethlehem, of the Virgin Mary, and of St. Bruno. They are part of a religious family that arose in France in 1950 and now has some 30 contemplative convents worldwide.

The nuns came to the Vatican accompanied by monks who are also members of this religious family.

"In particular, I invite your monastic family, which bears the name of Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Emmanuel, to intensify its prayer for the Middle East, imploring the Lord to obtain the grace of peace and reconciliation for all the inhabitants of that region martyred by violence," the Pope said.

"Through your contemplative life," he said, "you raise the world to God and remind human beings of our time of the place of silence and prayer in life."