VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians in the Middle East not to lose hope despite the serious difficulties they face.
"I extend my prayerful thoughts to the regions in the Middle East, encouraging all the priests and faithful to persevere with hope through the serious suffering that afflicts these beloved people," he said.
The pope made his remarks when he greeted Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut and Armenian bishops from around the world attending their synod in Rome.
At the end of the general audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, the pope expressed his "sincere gratitude" for Armenian Catholics' fidelity to their heritage and traditions, and to the successor of St. Peter.
Such fidelity has always sustained the faithful throughout "the innumerable trials in history," he said.
The majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches -- the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite or Melkite churches.
In his catechesis, the pope said oftentimes it seems God is silent, especially during times of great trial and difficulty.