Rebel fighters gesture in front of burning vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after an airstrike by coalition forces along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiya. CNS photos

Bishops of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya want end to ‘painful conflict’

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for a stop to fighting in Libya and the immediate start of a serious dialogue aimed at restoring peace to the North African country.

Speaking at his weekly blessing on March 27, the pope said he was increasingly concerned about the situation, where rebels supported by US and European airstrikes have battled the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“My fear for the safety and well-being of the civilian population is growing, as is my apprehension over how the situation is developing with the use of arms,” the pope said.

“To international agencies and to those with political and military responsibility, I make a heartfelt appeal for the immediate start of a dialogue that will suspend the use of arms.”

Echoing the pontiff’s call were the bishops of northern Africa, representing the Church in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

In a statement sent to Fides, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, on March 29, the bishops issued an “urgent appeal to find an end to this painful conflict, just and dignified for all”.

The statement, signed by Archbishop Vincent Landel of Rabat, Morocco, president of CERNA, the regional bishops’ conference of North Africa, said the bishops recognised the “legitimate claim for freedom, justice and dignity” that people seek.

“This demand translates into a desire to be recognised as responsible citizens with the opportunity to find a job that allows them to live decently, excluding all forms of corruption and cronyism,” said the statement.

“Today, this winds of change passes through Libya. And we especially unite with our brother bishops in Tripoli and Benghazi and with all communities in the country.”

The Bishop of Tripoli had earlier criticised the decision to use military action against Gaddafi rather than pursue a negotiated solution.

“I hope for [Gaddafi’s] surrender, but I think that Gaddafi will not give in,” Bishop Giovanni Martinelli told the Italian news agency, ANSA.

The Italian bishop said he had been working to mediate the crisis through a Libyan-funded interreligious organisation called the World Islamic Call Society but that the launch of military strikes cut short his attempts.

He said it is time for the African Union to try to mediate an end to the violence.

He told Fides, “The Europeans are wrong to think they can resolve this with bombs. Let’s allow space for mediation by the African Union.”

In his message, Pope Benedict said that in moments of great international tension, there was more urgency for diplomatic efforts that take advantage of “even the weakest sign of openness to reconciliation” among the parties in conflict. Solutions should be “peaceful and lasting”, he said.

The pope offered a prayer for “the return of harmony in Libya” and throughout North Africa.

He also expressed concern about the entire region of the Middle East, where episodes of violence and civil unrest were taking place daily.

“My thoughts go to the authorities and citizens of the Middle East.... There, too, the path of dialogue and reconciliation should be chosen for a just and brotherly coexistence,” he said.

Earlier in the week, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, criticised what it described as “great confusion” among the coalition that was carrying out airstrikes in support of the Libyan rebels.

The newspaper said France had undertaken the military operation “in haste and without any coordination” with other key members of the international community.

Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the Vatican would send an observer to the international conference on Libya scheduled for March 29 in London. - CNS

A Libyan walks near a naval military facility destroyed by coalition forces.

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