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Thursday 21 March 2013

Silent Testimony

By John Newton Aid to the Church in Need

THE leader of Catholics in north-east Libya has said he and his faithful will stand firm and continue undeterred despite an arson attack on a church and the arrest of Christian evangelists. 
            Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Sylvester Magro of Benghazi described how the Church was providing “silent testimony” through its charitable and pastoral activities.
Asked about the torching of St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Benghazi on Thursday (14th March), he said: “No one was expecting a reaction like that.”
Explaining the attack, the bishop said: “There was a protest in Cairo [Egypt’s capital] and this looks like a retaliation for that protest.”
The attack came in response to an anti-Libyan protest in Cairo following the death of Ezzat Atallah, an Egyptian Christian, aged 45.
Mr Atallah reportedly died of natural causes in a Benghazi prison on 10th March, after being arrested with three other men in February on a charge of proselytising.
He was suffering from a heart condition and had diabetes.
Bishop Magro described how – despite such setbacks – the Church was continuing its mission.
He said: “Notwithstanding the difficulties that may crop up every now and then, we strive to continue with our silent testimony of worship, of faith, of trust, of confidence and growth in the Word of God.
His comments come after reports of 48 Coptic Orthodox traders kidnapped late last month after complaints about their religious imagery on vendors’ boards and stalls in Benghazi.
In a video seized by police, the traders appear locked in a small room, watched over by men with long Salafist-style beards.
Many of those kidnapped have cuts, bruises and shaven heads.
The bishop, a member of the Franciscan order which has been working in the country since 1628, praised the work of the Sisters of Immaculate Conception of Ivrea who help poor Christians.
            Most Catholics in Libya are from the Philippines or North Africa and many earn less than others in the country.
Bishop Magro who oversees the Apostolic Vicariate of Benghazi, said: “This apostolate run by Sisters from Tanzania provides the Church with a living image of interesting itself in the poor, as Pope Francis said at his installation.
             “In all situations we try to help [using] the donations provided by the Holy Father himself – we have much pastoral work also and humanitarian or charitable activity.”
            Aid to the Church in Need provided the vicariate with a vehicle enabling priests to offer Mass in remote areas at least twice a month.
Bishop Magro said: “Our Vicariate extends from Marsa al Burayqah Misratah on the gulf of Sirte up to Tubruq in the east, close to the Egyptian border, and the towns on the coast road, like Al Marj, Al Bayda, Tubruq itself, have Christian Catholic communities in each town and we are always travelling… to these mission stations.
“From Burayqah to Benghazi there are 300km roughly from Benghazi to Tubruq there are 500km, so 800 in all, and that makes the car work very hard.
            The bishop thanked Aid to the Church in Need for its support.
 He said: “I would like to thank all the benefactors that contribute through ACN because it is only through them that we can operate in our mission.
“And may God reward all those who generously donate their support – because their names are known to him alone – but we offer our prayers in supplication to the Lord for their intentions.”

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