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As Christians in Libya Dwindle, Bishop Pledges to Stay

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Worst time for North African country since Gadhafi is a time for prayer, prelate says.

Libya is going through its most difficult period since the fall of the Moammar Gadhafi regime. Weeks of fighting in the capital, Tripoli, and the nation’s second-largest city, Benghazi, have killed more than 230 people and forced most foreigners and diplomats to leave the North African country. Islamic militias have conducted a violent offensive in recent weeks, battling with rivals in Tripoli and overwhelming much of Benghazi.

"The Christian community in Libya is now reduced to a minimum but I intend to stay here even if only one Christian remains," says Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli.

In Tripoli, the bloody clashes between various militias for the control of the airport have created serious damage to airport facilities. The situation in Cyrenaica is even more confusing due to the presence of different militias fighting for the control of the territory. 

Bishop Martinelli, 72, sums up the situation of the Christian community in Libya: "In Cyrenaica there are no nuns while the majority of Filipinos are leaving the region, who are the heart of the Christian community in Libya. In Tripoli, there is still a good presence of Filipinos but even here many of them are leaving."

"The Church lives in relationship with this presence of lay people who work in the health sector and given the situation this is really a time of strong ordeal. I do not know where we will end up but I am confident that a group of people will be here to serve the Church," said Bishop Martinelli, a Franciscan. 

"Fighting seems to have ended, but the situation remains precarious. The airport is closed and people start boarding ships. Even the journey overland to the Tunisian border has become impossible."

"I still have confidence in the future of Libya but we are in God’s hands," says Bishop Martinelli. "I cannot leave the few remaining Christians…. Prayer alone can solve difficult situations like the one in Libya today."
 

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