In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus proclaims: “I am the good shepherd… who lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). As the Successor of Saint Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the care of his flock (cf. Jn 21:15-17), I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the Risen Savior, and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love, in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history of Christian witness which you trace back to the age of the Apostles. The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East. May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world!National Catholic Reporter's John Allen, Jr. addresses Pope Benedict's call for perseverence:
Benedict did not lay out any detailed survival strategy, but he did indirectly call upon Christians not to lose their nerve despite their declining numbers.
“In the Middle East, marked by tragic suffering, by years of violence and unresolved tensions, Christians are called to offer their contribution, inspired by the example of Jesus, of reconciliation and peace through forgiveness and generosity,” Benedict said.
The pope also asked Christians to challenge ways of thinking which “justify taking innocent lives,” providing an example instead of “the love which inspires us to lay down our lives in service of others.”
Benedict likewise urged Christians to “build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures.”
Benedict’s message seemed warmly received, but how much difference a simple call to perseverance will make, even from the pope, remains to be seen. The late Pope John Paul II issued a similar appeal during his Middle Eastern pilgrimage nine years ago, and that has done little to arrest the exodus.
Throughout his time in Jordan, however, Benedict has tried to offer small signs of hope. On Saturday, he blessed the cornerstone for a new Catholic university in Madaba, near Amman, operated by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Today at Bethany beyond the Jordan, he blessed the cornerstones for two new Catholic churches, one Latin rite and the other Greek Melkite. Among other things, those projects are clearly intended to assert that Christianity has a future in the region.