VATICAN CITY - In a new outreach, Pope Benedict XVI offered prayers in Arabic the first time on Wednesday, October 10, in an effort to reach out Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.
"The pope prays for all Arabic speakers. May God bless you all!" the pontiff said in Arabic at the audience St Peter's Square, Reuters reported.
The pope addressed the audience about the results of the Second Vatican Council, which began 50 years ago.
The landmark Council is a "compass" for the Catholic Church "in the middle of the storms", the pope said.
As a young reformer, the then Joseph Ratzinger took part in the Council, better known as Vatican II, which revolutionized Catholic rituals.
The Council brought together 2,250 bishops and lasted from 1962 until 1965.
The pontiff has always defended the 15 "constitutions" adopted by the Council despite complaints from traditionalists in the Church over several reforms.
After the address, a bishop read out an Arabic translation of the pope's Italian comments praising the Council's results.
Briefs were also read in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Polish, Hungarian and Russian during the audience in front of thousands of worshippers.
Officials say the Arabic addition is meant to reach out more Christians and Muslims in the volatile Middle East.
The Vatican said the addition was made to show the pontiff's concern for Christians in the Middle East and to remind both Muslims and Christians to work for peace in the region.
Worries have grown among Christians in the Middle East over the Arab Spring, which brought Islamists to the helm of power.
Officials also say they hope the Arabic addition will help improve sometimes strained relations with Muslims.
A Vatican statement said the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics wanted to continue the spirit of his trip to Lebanon last month.
During the trip, the pope made appeals to both Christians and Muslims to work for an end to the conflict in neighboring Syria and for peace in the entire region.
Activists say more than 27,000 people have been killed in Syria's 18-month-old, mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Few Christians, who form about 10 percent of Syria's population, have joined the uprising, fearing that it could bring hostile Islamists to power.
Pope Benedict angered Muslims worldwide in 2006 after quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.
His lecture triggered criticisms from Muslim countries, scholars and intellectuals and strained ties between the Vatican and the Muslim world.
The pontiff has repeatedly said the words did not reflect his personal views but stopped short of a clear apology to Muslims.He also drew the ire of religious leaders after issuing a document titled Dominus Jesus, which clearly stated that Christianity was the only true path to salvation.