Pope Benedict XVI launched a "special assembly" of bishops focused on the Middle East on Sunday, during a visit to the divided island of Cyprus.
The group aims to "help to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs," he said in announcing the group, a part of the Catholic Church's Synod of Bishops.
A Vatican statement outlining the church's position on Christians in the Middle East, introduced by the Pope on Sunday and On the Vatican website, says the interfaith strife arises from Muslim theocracies.
A leading U.S.-based Muslim advocate said, "This kind of rhetoric isn't helpful in building relations between Christian and Muslim communities worldwide."
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there appear to be some misconceptions.
"Islamic law has had great respect for Christians and that has been demonstrated throughout history," he said. "The Prophet (Mohammad) himself had good relations with Christians." (More)