Pope says Iran should work for peace

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI said Friday that Iran should work for peace in the Middle East and urged Catholics in the country not to emigrate and to cooperate with the Islamic regime.

Benedict did not mention the tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program and the country’s role in Middle Eastern conflicts, but said Iran should become a force for peace in the region.

“The Catholic Church never ceases to encourage all those who have at heart the common good and peace between nations,” the pope said in a meeting with Iran’s bishops. “Iran, a bridge between the Middle East and subcontinental Asia, will certainly not fail to follow this vocation.”

Benedict said Iran’s shrinking Catholic communities must develop “harmonious relations” with Iran’s public institutions through cultural and charity efforts.

He urged the bishops to encourage Catholics to “remain attached to their land” to help develop the country, the Vatican said in a statement.

Before the 1979 Islamic revolution there were some 300,000 Catholics in Iran. By 2005, emigration had reduced their numbers to around 25,000, divided among the Chaldean, Armenian and Latin churches, the ANSA news agency reported.

Human rights reports and Western governments say Christians in Iran, like other minorities including Jews and Zoroastrians, suffer arrests as well as discrimination by being kept out of some jobs