VATICAN CITY: Christians are being driven out of eastern Libya by Muslim fundamentalists, the Catholic Church’s main clergyman in the country told the Vatican missionary news agency Fides.
The situation was “critical” and the “atmosphere very tense” in the Cyrenaica region, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli said in the interview Thursday.
He said two religious communities are leaving “after being pressured by fundamentalists,” adding that the Apostolic Vicar of Benghazi was cautioned to take shelter ahead of a large-scale demonstration on Feb. 20.
“In past days, the Congregation of the Holy Family of Spoleto who had been there for nearly 100 years were forced to abandon Derna,” east of the main eastern city of Benghazi, he said.
“In Barce [located between Benghazi and Derna] the Franciscan Sisters of the Child Jesus will leave their home in coming days.”
Friday, Martinelli told Vatican Radio that for some time now fundamentalism has governed decisions in Libya.
Christians have voiced fear of a rise in sectarian sentiment in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation following the 2011 revolt that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi and in which hard-line Islamists played a major part.
Before the uprising, 3 percent of Libya’s population of around 6.3 million were Christian. Now only a couple thousand of them remain, with the majority of them expatriates.
In December, two Egyptians died in a blast at a Christian Coptic church in the Libyan town of Dafniya, and two others were wounded.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 02, 2013, on page 11.