By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
During the “ad limina” visit of the bishops of Iran, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Iranian Catholics to be patient during the difficult times in which they are living.
“The road before you is long and requires perseverance and patience,” the Pope told them in a reception today. “The example of God, patient and merciful with His people, will serve you as a model and help you find the space necessary for dialogue.”
There are only about 24,000 Catholics in this predominately Muslim nation of 70 million. They are scattered throughout three Latin Archdioceses, one Chaldean Archeparchy and one Armenian Eparchy. Along with other branches of Christianity, they have endured periods of intense persecution in their history. Although permitted to express their faith within the walls of their churches, they are still subjected to arrests, beatings, and even death for their beliefs.
The Pope encouraged the bishops to “promote all initiatives that may favour better reciprocal knowledge” with the government and said the Church was already planning the institution of a bilateral commission “to enable the improvement of relations and mutual understanding between the Republic of Iran and the Catholic Church.”
He went on to praise the bishops who live “in a land with a very ancient Christian presence that has developed and survived through the many vicissitudes of Iranian history.”
“Nor do I wish to forget the Catholic faithful”, he added, “whose presence in the land of their ancestors brings to mind the biblical image of the yeast in the dough, which makes the bread rise and gives it flavour and texture.”
He invited all Iranian Catholics to “continue steadfast in the faith of their fathers and to remain rooted in their land, so as to collaborate in the development of the nation.”
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