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Pope Denounces Anti-Christian Violence in Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing during the Angelus noon prayer he celebrated from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's square at the Vatican, 31 Oct 2010

Pope Benedict XVI is denouncing a wave of anti-Christian violence in the Middle East. The pontiff called for renewed international efforts to negotiate peace in the region.

Pope Benedict condemned an attack in which at least 57 people were killed Sunday in a Catholic church in Baghdad

Benedict said he would pray for the victims of this senseless violence, made even more ferocious because it struck defenseless people who were gathered in the house of God, which is a house of love and reconciliation.

The pope was addressing pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square to hear his prayer on the Catholic Church's All Saints' Day holiday.

The gunmen took hostages gathered for Sunday mass at the Our Lady of Salvation Church, one of Baghdad's largest, and demanded the release of al-Qaida prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.

The pope appealed to the international community to do more against the "absurd" violence against Christians in the region, which has seen an exodus of non-Islamic minorities.

Speaking from his window overlooking the square, Pope Benedict called for everyone to join forces to put an end to violence.

Christians, who a century ago represented almost a quarter of the Middle East's population, have now been reduced to less than six percent. Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq are among the most affected countries.

The pope's appeal followed a two-week meeting of Middle East bishops dedicated to supporting minority Christians in the largely Muslim region. During the meeting earlier this month, Iraq's bishops in particular denounced how their faithful were disproportionately targeted by violence.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told the synod meeting Italy plans to lead efforts to stem the tide of violence and departures. He called for European Union countries to back a resolution, proposed by Italy at the United Nations, to take more concrete steps to support the region's religious minorities.