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 CNS Story:

POPE-COPTS Dec-9-2013 (380 words) xxxi

Pope, with Egyptian Catholic leader, prays for Middle East Christians

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Concelebrating Mass with the leader of Egypt's Coptic Catholics, Pope Francis prayed for the safety and religious liberty of Christians in the Middle East.

"Let real guarantees of religious liberty be given to all, together with the rights of Christians to live peacefully in the places where they were born, in the native country they love as citizens of more than 2,000 years, in order that they might contribute as always to the good of all," the pope said Dec. 9 during morning Mass in the Vatican guesthouse, where he lives.

Pope Francis concelebrated the Mass with Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria, Egypt, who had come to make his traditional gesture of "ecclesiastical communion" with the Holy See, following his appointment in January by Pope Benedict XVI.

The patriarch told Pope Francis that the Coptic Catholic Church, "in this delicate historical moment, needs the support of your paternal embrace," and prayed that the "light of the holy Nativity might be the star that reveals the path of love, of unity, of reconciliation, and of peace, gifts of which my land has such great need."

As many as 300,000 Christians have left Egypt for other countries since 2011, when a popular revolution ended the nearly 30-year secular rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Following the military overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, violence has surged, most of it targeting Egyptian government facilities but also the country's Christians. In August, more than 70 churches around the country were burned, ransacked and looted. Government officials and the country's Christian leaders have blamed the violence on the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi's Islamist supporters.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 85 million, which is 90 percent Muslim. Catholics in Egypt, who are in full communion with Rome, number about 165,000.

In his homily, Pope Francis also played for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and throughout the Middle East.

"Let us pray with confidence that in the Holy Land and all the Middle East peace might be able to rise from the often recurring and sometimes dramatic breaks" in the peace process, he said. "Let hatred and divisions be ended forever! Let the peace agreements, often paralyzed by conflicting and obscure interests, be quickly resumed."


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