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Vatican City -- Pope Benedict XVI on Friday urged Iran to play peacemaker in the Middle East and Asia as he met a delegation of Iranian bishops. The pontiff said that 'as a bridge between the Middle East and subcontinental Asia" Iran "should not fail to realise its vocation" to work for peace between nations.
Benedict added that the Holy See is studying the viability of a bilateral committee to develop relations between Iran and the Catholic Church. "We need to develop harmonious relationships with the public institutions so that, with the grace of God, these will gradually become deeper and will permit (the Catholic community in Iran) to better accomplish their mission... in reciprocal respect and for the good of all," he said.
Benedict invited Catholics in Iran to "keep their identity and ancient faith" and asked the bishops, led by the Chaldean archbishop of Tehran, Ramzi Garmou, to "help the faithful that remain in Iran and encourage them to stay in touch with the numerous families who have chosen (to leave the country)". An estimated 25,000 Chaldean, Armenian and Roman Catholics still live in Iran after most of the 300,000-strong Catholic community in the country left after an Islamic revolution in 1979. There are thought to be around 100,000 Christians in Iran, which has a population of 70.5 million.