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Pope Urges Religious Tolerance, Condemns Attacks on Christians

MANILA, January 7, 2011—POPE Benedict XVI appealed for religious tolerance amidst surging persecution of Christians and urged the faithful to commit themselves in building a society that ensures freedom of worship as a means to achieve peace in the world.

Allowing everyone to have the freedom of worship is the only way to peace, the Holy Father said.

“I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind,” the pope said in his 2011 World Day of Peace message.

He said he prays “especially for peace”, as he noted how the previous year has been again “marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.”

But even as he appealed for peace on New Year’s Day, media reported of a suicide bombing in Alexandria, Egypt that targeted Christian worshippers leaving a New Year’s mass at a Coptic Orthodox Church.

The bombing killed at least 21 people and injured several others, according to reports.

The pope made the plea for peace in the light of continued persecution of Christians, especially in countries that suppress freedom of worship.

For anyone to suffer persecution because of religious belief is an affront to God and human dignity, the Holy Father said.

The pope noted in his new year’s message the violent attack on Iraq Catholics in October 31 last year that killed two priests and over 50 faithful while gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass at the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad.

Pope Benedict expressed his closeness to the suffering Christian community who endured more attacks in the aftermath of violence.

“My thoughts turn in a special way to the beloved country of Iraq, which continues to be a theatre of violence and strife as it makes its way towards a future of stability and reconciliation,” the pope said.

The Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held in October discussed the situation of unpeace in the region, encouraging “the Catholic communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East to live in communion and to continue to offer a courageous witness of faith in those lands.”

The pope also said Christians are the most persecuted religious group because of their faith.

“Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom,” he said.