Nuncio in Libya Seeks Aid for Fleeing Eritreans

Affirms Church Is at the Service of Those on Both Sides of Conflict

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ROME, MARCH 1, 2011 ( As the rebellion in Libya starts to look like a civil war, the apostolic vicar of the capital and the papal nuncio are seeking aid for Eritreans who want to leave the country.

The appeal from Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, apostolic vicar of Tripoli, and Archbishop Tommaso Caputo, nuncio in Libya, was reported by the Fides agency.

“Yesterday, 2,000 [Eritreans] came to the church and to our premises asking for aid and assistance,” Bishop Martinelli explained in a report Monday. “It hurts us profoundly because we cannot do anything for them. My thought goes especially to the women and children. They are truly the little ones of the Gospel. They are poor, generous and very religious people. I ask that these people be attended and that they find shelter somewhere. No one is thinking of them.”

The prelate noted that the U.N. refugee organization had obtained 54 visas for transport to Italy but that the rest need a place to go.

Speaking of the revolt under way in Libya, the prelate reported that for the time being, the situation in the capital was peaceful. He spoke of people going to the bank to retrieve the 500 dinars (about $450) promised each family by the Moammar Gadhafi government, and the post office being open off and on.

“In sum, there is quite a bit of tranquility in the context of Tripoli,” he said, though he acknowledged, “I can only speak of this city.”

Intensifying aid

As for the Church, Bishop Martinelli said some women religious had left the Bengasi area but most, as well as the priests, were still in their places of work.

Archbishop Caputo had affirmed the same Sunday. “[T]he religious communities that work in the two apostolic vicariates of Tripoli and Bengasi continue to be fully at the service of the population and of the faithful,” a statement from the nunciature reported. “The majority of the 16 women’s communities, made up of religious of several countries, work in the health sector and, at this time, have intensified their assistance to the population. The sisters have expressed their desire to stay by the side of those who are suffering.”

Fides also noted that the two bishops and 15 priests “continue with their service and wish to continue with the mission entrusted to them.”

The statement from the nunciature said the missionaries are trying to help in every way possible the Catholic community — which it said numbers about 100,000 people.

Archbishop Caputo’s office further affirmed that even in the present circumstances, “the Libyan people, as traditionally they have always done, are expressing their gratitude for the presence and service of the women religious and priests. In these days this benevolence is shown with concrete gestures of solidarity.”

The archbishop also spoke with Vatican Radio on Monday about the situation of the refugees: “Our Eritrean brothers hope that a government will take care of their evacuation and receive them as refugees.”

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