• TOP STORIES \ May 15, 2008
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    Pope asks Israel: Help keep Catholics in Holy Land
Pope asks Israel: Help keep Catholics in Holy Land "I know that you share my concern over the alarming decline in the Christian population in the Middle East, including Israel, through emigration," the pontiff said.

"I pray that ... Ways will be found of reassuring the Christian community, so that they can experience the hope of a secure and peaceful future in their ancestral homelands."

The pontiff made the comments in an address to receive Israel's new ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, who became the fifth envoy since the Vatican and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1994.

The Vatican supports Israel's right to exist within secure borders and also supports an independent Palestinian state.

The pope said Palestinians had an equal right to prosperity and asked Israel "to make every effort to alleviate the hardship suffered by the Palestinian community".

"I do realize that the difficulties experienced by Christians in the Holy Land are also related to the continuing tensions between Jewish and Palestinian communities," he said.