“In my thoughts and prayers, I am especially mindful of the many priests and religious in the Middle East who are currently experiencing a particular call to conform their lives to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross. Through the difficulties facing their communities as a result of the conflicts and tensions of the region, many families are taking the decision to move away, and it can be tempting for their pastors to do likewise. In situations of this kind, though, a priest, a religious community, a parish that remains steadfast and continues to bear witness to Christ is an extraordinary sign of hope, not only for the Christians but for all who live in the region. Their presence alone is an eloquent expression of the Gospel of peace, the determination of the Good Shepherd to care for all the sheep, the Church’s unyielding commitment to dialogue, reconciliation and loving acceptance of the other. By embracing the Cross that is held out to them, the priests and religious of the Middle East can truly radiate the hope that lies at the heart of the mystery we are celebrating in our liturgy today.”

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