Despite Death Threats, Bishop of Tripoli Refuses to Flee Libya

Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli Says He Would Rather Be Martyred by Islamic Extremists Than Leave His Community

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Despite the Italian government warning its citizens Friday to leave Libya as violence escalates, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli says he would rather face martyrdom or risk being beheaded by Islamic extremists than abandon his community. 

In a telephone interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera, Bishop Martinelli vowed to stay in Tripoli, despite warnings from Rome to leave Libya.

 “My community is here. How could I leave?” the 73-year-old vicar said. “It would be a betrayal.”

 “This is the end of my mission. And if the end must bear witness to my blood, I will do it.” 

Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli was born in Libya before returning to northeast Italy with his family. In 1971, he moved back to Libya as a monk and now leads the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Tripoli.

Even with the closure of the Italian embassy on Sunday and the repatriation of almost 100 nationals to Italy, Bishop Martinelli celebrated Mass on Monday. He said he was “not moving,” nor was he scared.

Islamic extremists in Libya have been threatening the nation’s Christians, including the bishop himself.

“They came into the church to tell me I must die,” the Italian vicar said. “But I want it known that Father Martinelli is ok and that his mission could reach its term.”

Bishop Martinelli’s defiant stance came just days after Islamic State (IS) militants released a video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded.

In response to the murders, Egypt launched air strikes against IS targets in Libya. The Italian government called for a diplomatic response with UN involvement.

Saying he is well aware he could also be murdered by Islamic extremists, Bishop Martinelli said, “If God wants the end to be my head cut off, so be it. “

“Also if God doesn’t look for heads cut off, but other things in a man…I could give testimony to something precious,” he added.

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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