ROME (JTA) – On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s departure on a highly sensitive two-day visit to the Middle East, the Vatican decried violence in the name of religion.
The Vatican also condemned in a statement issued Thursday acts that caused “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslim sensibilities and led to “serious consequences” including "unacceptable violence."
The Holy See’s Press Office director, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, made the remarks in the statement in response to the violent attacks on the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats.
The statement, however, did not mention the murders of the diplomats, nor did it mention the American-made, anti-Islam film posted on YouTube that allegedly sparked the violence, which on Thursday spread to Yemen.
The film’s producers remain shadowy figures, but reports said the film was promoted by right-wing Christians in the United States, including members of the Coptic community.
The Vatican statement’s wording also — to some readers — seemed to condemn the film as much as the violent reaction.
"Profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols of the various religions is an essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples,” Lombardi’s statement said. “The serious consequences of unjustified offense and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers are once again evident in these days, as we see the reactions they arouse, sometimes with tragic results, which in their turn nourish tension and hatred, unleashing unacceptable violence."
The pope leaves Friday for a two-day visit to Lebanon that he has said is aimed at promoting dialogue and peace in the Middle East as a whole.
One of the Vatican’s concerns in the Middle East is persecution of local Christians in some countries.
Lombardi’s statement reiterated the theme of dialogue, stating that “The message of dialogue and respect for all believers of different religions, which the Holy Father is preparing to carry with him on his forthcoming trip to Lebanon, indicate the path that everyone should follow in order to construct shared and peaceful coexistence among religions and peoples."