VATICAN CITY, NOV. 21, 2010 ( Benedict XVI is offering prayers for religious freedom, especially in those places where Christians are persecuted.

The Pope gave an assurance of his prayers today after praying the midday Angelus together with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"Following the invitation of the bishops, in Italy the ecclesial communities are praying for the Christians who are suffering persecutions and discrimination, especially in Iraq," the Pontiff said.

"I join this invocation of the God of life and peace, that in every part of the world religious freedom might be secured," he added.

"I am near to these brothers and sisters through great witness of faith that they bear to God," the Holy Father said.

He continued, "In today's memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple the Church remembers cloistered men and women with particular affection."

"It is Pro Orantibus Day in which the invitation to concretely support these communities is renewed," Benedict XVI said. "To them I impart the apostolic blessing from my heart."

He stated, "To the Virgin Mary, in today's observance of her Presentation in the Temple, we entrust the new members of the College of Cardinals and our earthly pilgrimage toward eternity."

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