Catholics caught in crossfire as Libyan violence continues

Rebels fire at government troops during street fighting in Libya. Credit: Chris Hondros/ Getty Images/ Getty Images News
Rebels fire at government troops during street fighting in Libya. Credit: Chris Hondros/ Getty Images/ Getty Images News

.- As Libya's conflict rages on between rebel forces and troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, Catholics in the capital city of Tripoli are seeking protection. 

“Currently there are three Franciscan friars barricaded in the convent in Tripoli,” a source told the Vatican-based Fides news on Aug. 23. “No one dares to walk in the street because people are shot on sight, even if it is not clear who shoots who.”

The fighting in Libya has continued for around six months and is being waged by the rebel Transitional Authority—which is being supported by NATO forces—and troops loyal to the country’s longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The rebels began their attack on the capital Aug. 19. 

“Currently, the phone lines are cut and one cannot contact the monks,” the Fides source, who requested anonymity, added. “From the latest communications we were told that on the night between August 21 and 22 there were shootings outside the convent.”

The heaviest conflict, however, has been around the fortified area of Bab al-Azizy, Gadhafi's residence in Tripoli.

“Fighting and gun firing still continue. It is a disaster. We do not know how the situation is evolving because leaving the house means risking one’s life,” the source said.

Meanwhile, the situation of the Catholic community in Benghazi appears to be better, with the Church  continuing to regularly carry out its pastoral activities.

“There have not been particular difficulties encountered in the pastoral ministry with the new authorities. Only in March-April there were problems concerning public order, but now the transition authorities have gradually taken over the situation,” another unnamed source told Fides.

Over the last several months, Catholic priests and religious in the country have been weathering the violence. Many religious sisters work in hospitals and are working overtime with casualties from the conflicts.

In an interview with CNA on Feb. 24, Bishop Sylvester Magro, Apostolic Vicar of Benghazi, said that the principal concern of the Catholic Church “is to be close to the sick and suffering, so our contribution to the events is invaluable because of our closeness to the people.”

He said that the Catholic population shares the fate of “everybody else,” at this point.

Bishop Magro helps oversee the two apostolic vicariates that coordinate Church activities in the western capital of Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.

To serve the large and varied immigrant communities, Masses are held at least once a week for around 10 different groups divided up by nationality or language.

Masses for Koreans, Indians, Eritreans and Filipinos are interspersed among those given in English, Italian, French, Polish and Arabic. Parish activities are still largely overseen by Franciscan priests. In a number of cities and towns, but in particular in Tripoli and Benghazi, religious communities are also present.


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