NICOSIA, Cyprus – Pope Benedict XVI is urging support for the embattled Christian communities in the Middle East, calling them a vital force for peace in the region.

Benedict's remarks on Saturday underscored a key theme of his three-day pilgrimage to Cyprus that the Vatican views as a crossroads between Europe and the Middle East.

Meeting with

Orthodox Christian Archbishop Chrysostomos II, Benedict said the continuing conflict in the Middle East "must be a source of concern to all of Christ's followers."

War and harsh economic conditions have led to the exodus of thousands of Christians from the Holy Land, Iraq and elsewhere in recent years.

The pope said Catholics play an important role in cooperating with other religions in "praying and working together for peace."