Pope Appeals for Peace in Libya and Syria

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI renewed his appeal for a negotiated settlement in Libya and called for an end to bloodshed in Syria, where civil strife has left hundreds of people dead.

Speaking at his noon blessing at the Vatican May 15, the pope said he was following the conflict in Libya with “great concern,” and was especially worried about the suffering of civilians.

“I renew a pressing appeal that the way of negotiation and dialogue may prevail over violence, with the support of international organizations that are working to find a solution to the crisis,” the pope said.

He expressed his appreciation for the efforts of the Catholic Church in Libya to assist the population, noting in particular the work of nuns in the country’s hospitals.

The top church official in Libya, Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli, continued to call for a cease-fire so that civilians could “catch their breath.” The bishop has been a strong critic of the NATO bombing campaign against the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, saying the bombs have caused civilian casualties.

“Yesterday, at Marsa Brega, there were 16 deaths, and many others died in other parts of Tripoli. The bombs continue to mow down victims,” Bishop Martinelli told the Vatican missionary news agency Fides May 14. “Last night, too, there were a number of bombardments, the strongest around 3 a.m. They don’t let us sleep.”

Bishop Martinelli said Catholic religious services have been carried out regularly despite the conflict.

“In our prayers, we invoke the grace of peace and reconciliation. Certainly on both sides there are wrongs to forgive, but one cannot forgive by dropping bombs,” he said.

The pope said the situation in Syria required urgent efforts to find social harmony.

“I ask God that there be no further shedding of blood in that country of great religions and great civilization. I ask the authorities and all the citizens to spare no effort in seeking the common good and in accepting the legitimate aspirations for a future of peace and stability,” he said.

During two months of unrest, the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad has used violence against demonstrators and arrested thousands of political opponents. An opposition coalition has called for a new constitution that ends the ruling party’s monopoly on power.

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