VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Build relationships with the state authorities so as to enable Christians to better fulfill their mission, Benedict XVI urged Iranian Church leaders.
The Pope said this today to the members of the episcopal conference of Iran, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.
He recognized “the richness of unity in the diversity that exists” in the Church in Iran, which includes three communities: Armenian, Chaldean and Latin.
The Holy Father affirmed that “the Catholic Church never ceases to give encouragement to those concerned for the common good and peace among nations. For its part neither will Iran, a bridge between the Middle East and sub-continental Asia, cease to fulfill this vocation.”
He recognized the work of the Catholic Church within Iran: priests and religious caring for the spiritual needs of the people, Christians helping the elderly and the needy, collaboration in the work to rebuild the earthquake-stricken region of Bam, and the faithful whose presence is as “yeast in the dough.”
The Pontiff encouraged the faithful to “continue steadfast in the faith of their fathers and to remain rooted in their land, so as to collaborate in the development of the nation.”
He spoke of the need to develop harmonious relationships with the public institutions of Iran, which “with the grace of God, will certainly become more profound and enable the [Christian] communities better to carry out their ecclesial mission, while upholding mutual respect for the good of all.”
Benedict XVI added: “I invite you to promote all initiatives that may favor better reciprocal knowledge.
“Two avenues can be explored: cultural dialogue, which is the centuries-old richness of Iran, and charity. The latter will illuminate the former and will be its motor.
“In order to bring about this objective, and above all for the spiritual progress of the faithful, it is necessary to send workers that sow and harvest: priests and religious.”
He recognized the need to encourage vocations, and to support the work of priests and religious by the “creation of a bilateral commission with the state authorities” that will allow the development of “relations and mutual understanding between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Catholic Church.”
The Pope addressed the migration issue, and urged the prelates to “give particular help to the faithful who live in Iran, inviting them to remain in contact with relatives who have chosen a different destiny, that they may maintain their identity and their ancestral faith.”
He continued: “The road before you is long and requires perseverance and patience. The example of God, patient and merciful with his people, will serve as a model and help you find the space necessary for dialogue.
“Your Churches are heirs to a noble tradition and to a long Christian presence in Iran.
“They have, each it its own way, contributed to the life and development of the nation, and they wish to continue their efforts in the service of Iran, while conserving their own identity and freely living their faith.”
Christians and other non-Muslim religions make up only about 2% of Iran’s population of nearly 66 million. The nation has six dioceses or archdioceses.