The Holy See has no desire to escalate conflict or strain diplomatic relations, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said Jan. 11 in response to Egypt recalling its ambassador in protest of Pope Benedict's condemnation of the recent violence against Christians in the country.
Fr. Lombardi made his remarks after Egypt temporarily recalled Mrs. Lamia Aly Mekhemar Hamada, ambassador of Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See. The action by the Egyptian government took place after Pope Benedict implored ambassadors in a Jan. 9 address to protect Christian minorities.
The Pope's comments followed a bomb attack by Islamic militants on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year's Eve that killed 23 people.
Hossam Zaki, an Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman, condemned the Pope's Jan. 9 remarks, saying the pontiff committed “unacceptable interference” in the country's “internal affairs.”
Zaki also noted that Egypt has asked Ambassador Hamada to return to Cairo for a consultation on the Pope's comments.
In response to the situation, Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi said on Jan. 11 that the Holy See has no interest in straining diplomatic relations with Egypt and that the ambassador was able to meet with Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, before she left.
Fr. Lombardi said that during her meeting with Archbishop Mamberti, the ambassador was able to receive “relevant information” to report back to her foreign ministry on the recent interventions of Pope Benedict, especially on religious freedom and the protection of Christians in the Middle East. The ambassador was also able to express her government's concerns regarding the current “difficult” situation.
Fr. Lombardi said Archbishop Mamberti stressed to the ambassador that the Vatican experiences the grief the country feels following the recent attack in Alexandria and shares the Egyptian government's concern in avoiding "the escalation of conflict and tension for religious reasons.”Archbishop Mamberti also underscored his appreciation for the efforts that the government “makes in that direction.”
But tensions within Egypt continue to simmer, with Jan. 11 reports saying a Muslim policeman opened fire on passengers aboard a Cairo-bound train, killing one Christian man and wounding 5 others.
Coptic Bishop Marcos told AFP that witnesses relayed to him how the gunman roamed the train looking for Christians and shouted 'Allahu Akbar!' before opening fire.
The attack is the latest in a string of violence committed against Christians in the Middle East by Islamic militants, adding to the Egyptian Church bombing in Alexandria on Jan. 1 and an attack at Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq, on Oct. 31 last year that killed over 50 people.