After a meeting with Italian officials on Tuesday, Cardinal Pietro Parolin told reporters that swift action is needed in Libya, where continual conflict since a 2011 revolution has resulted in rival governments and a foothold for Islamists.

Amid the chaos in the north African nation, Islamic State affiliates beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians over the weekend.

Cardinal Parolin said Feb. 17 the incident was "terrifying," but the men's fidelity to Christ "provides a wonderful testimony of Christian martyrdom … May God give us the grace to die in the same way."

"We are usually today led to underline the aspect of cruelty – and it is an unspeakable cruelty – and it is unbelievable that there can be incidents like this during our time," he said. "But, we look to the other part, the part of the testimony these martyrs gave. It has always been like this, in the history of the Church."

Libya has been unstable since a 2011 revolution which ousted longtime president Muammar Gaddafi, and a civil war began in earnest in May 2014. The internationally recognized government is based in Tobruk and controls much of eastern Libya, while a rival Islamist government was established in Tripoli in August, and controls much of the west.

In response to the Libyan crisis, Cardinal Parolin stressed that "a quick response" is needed because the "situation is grave," yet added that "any armed intervention must be carried forward under the framework of international law" and "under the umbrella of the United Nations."

The day after Cardinal Parolin's meeting with Italian officials, Italy's foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni told parliament that the "deterioration of the situation on the ground forces the international community to move more quickly before it's too late," highlighting a "clear risk" of alliances between Islamic State and Libyan Islamists.

The Libyan issued overshadowed the Vatican-Italian meeting, which was held to celebrate the anniversary of the 1929 Lateran Treaty, which established Vatican City State and which governs relations between the two states.

The 40-minute meeting took place at the Italian embassy to the Holy See, and marked the first time newly-elected Italian president Sergio Mattarella took part.

Cardinal Parolin was joined by several officials at the Secretariat of State as well as the president and secretary of the Italian bishops conference; the Italian delegation included the president, prime minister, and several government ministers and parliamentarians.

Topics of discussion included care for immigrants – which the Libyan crisis has exacerbated – freedom of education, and security. According to Cardinal Parolin, the talks were not about the same-sex unions bill to be soon discussed in Italy's parliament.

The cardinal emphasized that the Church fosters the welcoming of immigrants, and that while "there is a duty of charity, above all there is a duty of justice."

"For the Italian authorities there are international conventions to which they are obligated," he said. "We as a Church principally underline the charitable aspects."

During the talks, the Italian government acknowledged the importance of the contribution given by Catholic schools to the Italian school system. Regarding civil unions, both delegations issued a generic appeal about the importance of family, but no specific mention was made of the civil union bill that member of parliament will soon discuss.

With respect to security, Cardinal Parolin stated that terrorists have made "no specific threats against the Vatican," and that "this does not mean we should not be attentive and vigilant, but without falling into alarmism."