The focus of the Middle East Synod is pastoral, not political, the pope said in a mass Sunday at St. Peter's basilica in Rome, which was broadcast on Vatican Radio.
The Roman Catholic Church should "re-enliven communion of the Catholic Church in the Middle East," Benedict said.
The pope told congregants this "singular event demonstrates the interest of the whole church for that precious and beloved part of God's people who live in the Holy Land and the whole of the Middle East."
The synod's theme is "Communion and Witness," Vatican Radio said. "Without communion there can be no witness," Benedict said, reminding parishioners that communion is "a gift, not something which we ourselves must build through our own efforts," but one that requires conversion.
Among those attending the synod were Lebanese Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, and Iraqi Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans.
The Middle East assembly runs to Oct. 24, and drew 270 participants from the region, Vatican Radio said.