Christians in the Middle East should be "courageous and steadfast" and avoid the temptation to join an exodus that has seen their population sharply decline across the region in recent years, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday.
"The difficult situation which individuals and Christian communities face in the region is a cause of deep concern for us all," he told representatives of Oriental Orthodox Churches, many from the Middle East.
"Indeed, Christian minorities find it difficult to survive in the midst of such a volatile geopolitical panorama and are often tempted to emigrate," he said. "In these circumstances, Christians of all traditions and communities in the Middle East are called to be courageous and steadfast."
Across the region, Christian communities date to the to the time when Jesus and his apostles preached, but nearly everywhere Christian populations are in decline, reports AP.
In a separate audience with Christian, Muslim and Jewish representatives, Benedict called for "true dialogue, respectful of the differences."
"Interreligious and intercultural dialogue and research are not an option, but a vital necessity for our times," Benedict said.
The pope has been stepping up such a call since a speech he gave in Germany in September that linked Islam and violence angered Muslims.