Arabic makes debut at papal audience with eye on Middle East
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Arabic made its debut as one of the official languages at Pope Benedict's weekly general audiences on Wednesday as part of a Vatican attempt to reach out more to Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.
The Vatican is concerned about the exodus from the Middle East of Christians, many of whom leave because they fear for their safety. Christians now comprise five percent of the population of the region, down from 20 percent a century ago.
According to some estimates, the current population of 12 million Christians in the Middle East could halve by 2020 if security and birth rates continue to decline.
Vatican officials said that speaking Arabic during the audiences, which are broadcast live on television and radio across the world, would send a comforting word to Christians in a region which is home to many Christian holy places.
They also hope the pope addressing Muslims directly could improve sometimes strained relations with Islam.
A priest read a summary of the pope's Italian language weekly address in Arabic for the first time, joining other briefs in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Polish, Hungarian and Russian during the audience in front of thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
After the address, which dealt with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the pope said in Arabic: "The pope prays for all people who speak Arabic. May God bless you all."
The Vatican said the addition was made to show the pontiff's concern for Christians in the Middle East and to remind both Muslims and Christians to work for peace in the region. Continued...