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Pope to summon on MEast churches

VATICAN CITY, Sep 19 – Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday he planned to summon a special synod of bishops to discuss the Middle East in October next year, the Vatican said in a statement.

He was speaking to Roman Catholic Church leaders from the region at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence outside Rome, the Vatican said.

"I will not forget the call for peace you have put in my hands … and my thought go firstly to the regions of the Middle East," the statement quoted the pope as saying.

"I am using this occasion therefore to announce the summoning of a synod of bishops for the Middle East which will take place from October 10 to 24."

The theme of the conference will be "The Catholic Church in the Middle East, communion and witness," he added.

The majority of people living in Middle Eastern countries are Muslim and Christians in the region can endure difficult conditions.

In January, Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk in Iraq, visited Benedict and asked for a meeting to be called on the situation of minority Christians in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

Attacks on churches in Iraq in July left four dead and 32 injured.

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During a visit to the Holy Land in May, the head of the Roman Catholic Church urged Christians not to flee the region and called for freedom to allow them to practise their religion.

A number of Middle Eastern churches come under the Catholic umbrella, including Maronites, Chaldeans, Armenians and Copts.

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