Pope makes plea to Ahmadinejad

Pope Benedict XVI has told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the discrimination and violence Catholics suffer in the Middle East and said he hopes relations between the local Catholic Church and authorities can improve.

Benedict had written to Mr Ahmadinejad in reply to a letter from the Iranian leader last month. Mr Ahmadinejad had thanked the pontiff for opposing a Florida pastor's threat to burn copies of the Koran on the 11 September anniversary.

In the Pope's letter, dated 3 November but released only yesterday, Benedict noted that a recent meeting of Middle East bishops had decried the discrimination many Catholics face in the region.

He said he hoped a bilateral commission would help address the legal status of the Catholic Church in Iran.