ROME, FEB. 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The view that Libyan Catholics have of their country is very different from that presented at times in the Western press.
“A superficial reading of Libya would describe this country as fanatic, extremist and tyrannical, but in reality it is a country with an age-old vocation to dialogue,” says Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli. The bishop is responsible for Libya’s Catholics, most of whom are immigrants.
Bishop Martinelli explained that “the president of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, is presented only in his anti-Western and pan-Arabic facet, but deep down Libya stands for a reformed Islam, open to dialogue with other religions.”
“Libya is a bridge between Africa and the Mediterranean, and it has always been a place of coexistence among different races, cultures and religions,” the bishop said Tuesday when addressing a meeting organized by the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies of Rome.
“Islam’s proposal in Libya is fidelity to religion, but open to dialogue,” he said. “In this context, there is no room for fundamentalism.”
The majority of Catholics in the country are from Sudan, Poland, the Philippines, Italy and other areas, especially African.
The great problem of both pastors and faithful is the lack of missionaries and lay people who speak Arabic. Bishop Martinelli took the opportunity to appeal to Catholics, particularly religious congregations, to send missionaries who speak Arabic.
Libya, a country of Bedouin tradition, has had a Christian presence since A.D. 70. In 189 a Libyan became Pope and took the name Victor I. His pontificate lasted about a decade.
Officially, there are 50,000 Catholics in Libya. Bishop Martinelli reckons there are 100,000 baptized individuals in all.