Pope Urges Perseverance For Mideast Christians

Pope Benedict XVI Sunday held the first open-air mass of his week-long Mideast journey, addressing a crowd estimated at about 20,000 in Amman's central sports stadium.

The plight of the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle East was the focal point of the pope's homily.

Benedict said this Catholic community is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties, which affect all people of the Middle East, and he urged them to maintain the Church's presence in what he called "the changing social fabric of these ancient lands."

The number of Christians in the Middle East is estimated at 160,000. The ongoing exodus has been sparked by wars, political instability and poverty.

The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Fouad Twal told the pope that Jordan has become a safe haven for some 40,000 Iraqi Christians who have fled their homes in the aftermath of the American invasion.

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