Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham delivered an impassioned address in French to the Pope May 9 during vespers at the Melkite Cathedral of Saint George in Amman, Jordan, in which he outlined the principal problems relating to the Christian presence in the Arab world.

He said Christians in the Holy Land make up a "Church of martyrs and witnesses," in daily dialogue and "perfect solidarity with our Arab peoples" and with Muslims.

But he said that their values of faith and dialogue are "threatened by the fact of the Israeli-Arab conflict, which has caused and continues to cause wars, crises, calamities, fundamentalist currents, growth of violence and response to violence by violence, whose victims number thousands among our sons and daughters of the Middle East, in all Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities."

The conflict, he said, contributes to the loss of Christians from the Holy Land from emigration. If the trend in Christians leaving the Holy Land continues, he predicted, "it would mean that the mainly Muslim Arab society of the Middle East would be deprived, for its future, of its ambient, historical characteristics and of that Christian presence, which has been for the last 1,400 years a fundamental element of symbiosis of civilizations and Christian and Islamic cultures."

He vowed, on behalf of the Christian population, to stay, but said that in order to remain there must be a "just, durable and comprehensive peace in our region, especially in Palestine, but also in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq."

"We shall not emigrate," he said. "We shall remain here, to affirm, as did Peter, whose successor you are: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'"

"The responsibility for peace certainly lies with Arab countries and their governments," he said, "but also with other states, especially those of Europe and America."

Patriarch Gregorios thanked the Pope for his "clear, firm and just" stance on the matter of the Palestinian question, "the right of Palestinians to have a homeland, and their rights with regard to Jerusalem, which is the holy city of faith for us all, Christians, Muslims and Jews."

"Your visit, most Holy Father, is, for Jordan, the Holy Land and our entire Middle East, a factor for hope and opens for us radiant new horizons, since we all aspire to peace, safety, daily bread, a worthy life, and a glowing future for youth," he continued.

He asked that Eastern-rite Catholic patriarchs be able to meet from time to time with the Pope to keep him informed of "our circumstances, our role, our hopes and our trials, for we know that you have a great affection for the Middle East, which is the cradle of Christianity and a meeting place of civilizations."