Egypt, angry over pope's remarks, recalls ambassador

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The government of Egypt recalled its ambassador
to the Vatican on Tuesday (Jan. 11) to protest a demand by Pope Benedict
XVI that it better protect the country's embattled Christian minority.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement that its
ambassador, Lamia Aly Hamada Mekhemar, had been recalled because the
pope's demands represented an "unacceptable interference in its internal

In an address to foreign ambassadors at the Vatican on Monday (Jan.
10), the pope noted recent violence against Christians in the Middle
East, including a car bomb outside a Christian Coptic church in
Alexandria, Egypt, that killed at least 21 people on New Year's Day.

Benedict then called on "governments of the region to adopt ...
effective measures for the protection of religious minorities." He
quoted a recent statement by Catholic bishops that Christians in the
Middle East "should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of
conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and
the use of the mass media."

According to a Vatican statement issued late Tuesday, Mekhemar met
at the Vatican with Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, who is effectively
the Holy See's foreign minister.

The Egyptian ambassador "made clear her government's concerns in the
difficult present moment," the Vatican statement said, and she was given
information to convey to Cairo "on the recent interventions by the Holy
Father, particularly about religious liberty and the protection of
Christians in the Middle East."

When he accepted the ambassador's credentials in 2008, Benedict
praised Egypt as "a land of hospitality for many refugees, Muslims and
Christians, who have sought security and peace in its territory."

Francis X. Rocca

Francis X. Rocca writes for Religion News Service.

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