ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome  

Pontiff Sees Vatican-Syria Relations Progressing
Pledges Support to New Ambassador

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI said that he is confident about consolidating good relations with Syria, when receiving the letters of credence of the country's new ambassador to the Holy See.

In his address to Makram Obeid on Thursday, the Holy Father did not hesitate to point out to Syria the possibility it has to offer the world "an example of peaceful coexistence and tolerance between the followers of different religions."

"As you have indicated, from ancient times Syria has witnessed a great flowering of civilizations and religions," the Pope said to Obeid.

In fact, added the Pontiff, Damascus, the capital, "is dear to Christians as the site of St. Paul's baptism, following his dramatic experience of conversion during his journey there"; and "many great saints have led lives of exemplary holiness on Syrian soil."

Benedict XVI continued: "For centuries now, there have been harmonious relations between the Christian and Muslim communities in your country.

"I can assure you of the support of the Holy See for the efforts your government has made both at home and abroad to promote dialogue between religions and cultures."

Because "all people are linked by profound solidarity with one another, and must be encouraged to assert their historical and cultural differences not for the sake of confrontation, but in order to foster mutual respect," the Pope said, alluding to his recent address to the diplomatic corps in Ankara, Turkey.

"The Catholic community in Syria, as you know, is eager to play its part in national life, in cooperation with fellow Christians from the various Eastern Churches represented there," the Pontiff said.

Toward unity

The Holy Father said Syria "is certainly fertile ground for progress in ecumenical relations between the followers of Christ, and I would like to pledge the continued support of the Catholic Church for this important work," recalling that during his recent journey to Turkey he was able to express publicly "the commitment of both Catholic and Orthodox Churches to work in every way toward the goal of full visible communion."

Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for "the recent legislation implemented by the Syrian government to recognize the juridical status of the Catholic Churches" in the country.

"This step bodes well for a future of growing reciprocal understanding between the members of different Churches and different religions in Syria," the Pontiff said.

The Holy Father added: "Moreover, it sets the scene for increasing cooperation between the Church and the government, which should facilitate the discovery of a solution to differences, such as the question of Church property taken over by the state.

"It is a sign of real maturity in relations when such matters can be discussed with openness, honesty and mutual respect."

Benedict XVI invoked God's blessing upon Syria and said to the ambassador that he is "confident that the noble task which you begin today will consolidate these good relations between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Holy See."

Of Syria's 19 million inhabitants, 74% are Sunni Muslims, and 10% are Christians.