Thursday, 20 October 2011 13:22
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Condemning an attack on unarmed Christians in Egypt, Pope Benedict XVI said that during the country’s transition to democracy, all of its citizens and institutions must work to guarantee the rights of minorities.
At the end of his weekly general audience Oct. 12, Pope Benedict said he was “profoundly saddened” by the deaths Oct. 9 of at least 26 people, mostly Christians, after peaceful protesters were attacked by gangs, and then a speeding military vehicle ran into them and officers fired on the crowd. Hundreds of people were injured.
The pope said Egypt, which has been transitioning to democracy since the February ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, has been “lacerated by attempts to undermine peaceful coexistence among its communities.”
Safeguarding harmony and cooperation is essential for a future of true democracy, he said.
The pope asked Catholics to pray that Egypt would “enjoy true peace based on justice and respect for the freedom and dignity of every citizen.”
“In addition, I support the efforts of Egyptian civil and religious authorities in favor of a society in which the human rights of all — especially minorities — are respected to the benefit of national unity,” the pope said.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population; 90 percent of its 82 million inhabitants are Muslim.
Bishop Camillo Ballin, apostolic vicar of Northern Arabia and outgoing general secretary of the conference of Latin-rite bishops in Arab countries, told the Vatican newspaper that the bishops are worried about the shifting tone of the changes occurring in countries throughout the region.
“Christians are afraid. In Egypt, like in other countries such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, people live under an atmosphere of continuous tension. Our people are exposed to violence and see a lack of protection,” said the bishop, who attended the pope’s general audience.
Bishop Adel Zaky, apostolic vicar of Alexandria, Egypt, was also present. He told the newspaper that Egyptians need prayers and the encouragement of the international community to respect human rights and protect minorities.
Egypt also needs to hold elections, he said. Balloting for the lower house of parliament has been promised for late November as a first step toward ending military rule.
“One cannot rule with an iron fist,” Bishop Zaky said. “For too long there has been a climate of violence, which has led to the burning of churches, to maltreatment, but especially to the death of many innocent people.”