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HOLYLAND-BISHOPS May-12-2009 (320 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope encourages Holy Land's 'little flock' at site of Last Supper

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the "little flock" of Christians in the Holy Land to persevere as a vital presence in society and a witness to unity in the troubled region.

The pope met with the bishops of the Holy Land May 12 in the chapel of the Cenacle, which tradition says is the "upper room" of Jesus' Last Supper and the place where the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost.

He sought to bring energy and hope to a flock that has decreased drastically. Over the last 40 years, the Christian population in the Holy Land has gone from about 20 percent of the population to about 2 percent.

In a speech, the pope said one key element for the church's future is an effort to build unity among its various branches.

The Christian presence in the Holy Land, he said, is of "vital importance for the good of society as a whole." The church, though small in numbers, can act as a leaven in society, transforming hearts and shaping actions, and promoting a "climate of peace in diversity."

The pope said the church must avoid the temptation to "turn in upon ourselves in selfishness or indolence, isolation, prejudice or fear." It should carry out its mission in the Holy Land with frankness and courage, he said.

The pope commended the bishops for setting up assistance programs for local Catholics, and told them they could also count on his support. The Holy See coordinates funding for hundreds of projects and programs for the people in the region.

Pope Benedict cited Jesus' words in St. Luke's Gospel: "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

Afterward, the pope visited Jerusalem's Latin-rite co-cathedral, kneeling in eucharistic adoration and greeting the 300 people who gathered inside. Before the pope arrived, seminarians briefly unfurled a Palestinian flag from a balcony.


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