In the wake of the deaths of a US ambassador and three staff members in Libya and the unrest triggered by a US-made amateur film hostile to Islam, the Vatican decried disrespect toward all religions and deplored all violence as unacceptable.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said: “Profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols of the various religions are an essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples.
“The serious consequences of unjustified offence and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers are once again evident in these days, as we see the reactions they arouse, sometimes with tragic results, which in turn nourish tension and hatred, unleashing unacceptable violence,” he said in a written statement that was also translated into Arabic.
He told journalists that Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Lebanon on Friday would continue despite the fresh wave of unrest in the region because the Pope’s journey is a testament of “peace, understanding and dialogue that’s completely opposed to this kind of tension that has been and is being created”, he told reporters.
“The message of dialogue and respect for all believers of different religions, which the Holy Father is preparing to carry with him on his forthcoming trip to Lebanon, indicates the path that everyone should follow in order to construct shared and peaceful coexistence of religions and peoples,” the spokesman wrote.
The Vatican statement comes after the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three staff members were killed during a mob attack against the US consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday, September 11.
The violence was triggered by angry reaction to the trailer of a film mocking the prophet Mohammed. Though the trailer was released online in July, it was recently dubbed into Arabic and grabbed Arab media attention.
Tensions spread the same day as thousands of unarmed demonstrators gathered outside the United States Embassy in Cairo and some later breached the compound’s walls and destroyed a flag found inside.
Libya’s interim president, Mohammed Magarief, offered his condolences and apologised for the attack, describing it as “cowardly”, according to the Associated Press.
US President Barack Obama condemned the killings and praised Mr Stevens’ selfless service to the United States and the Libyan people.
“While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Vatican’s representative in Libya lamented the violence while pleading for greater respect for religious beliefs.
Referring to the officials’ deaths, Italian Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, told the Vatican’s missionary news agency Fides: “What has happened is terrible, but we need to avoid offending the people’s religious sensibility.”
“One has to respect the sensitivity of the Muslim population. The Arab countries are already in the throes of momentous upheaval; pouring gasoline on religious outrage is really dangerous,” he said.