Pope meets Al Arabi over safety of Christians

Pope Benedict XVI met with the new Arab League chief, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al Arabi, on Wednesday amid concerns over the safety of Christians caught up in the Arab revolutions in the Middle East.

The meeting, which followed talks between Arabi and Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, took place on the sidelines of the pope's weekly general audience, held in St. Peter's Square.

Neither the Holy See nor Arabi issued a statement.

The meeting was expected to focus on the revolutions in north Africa and the Middle East, the war in Libya and the safety of Christian minority groups in the area.

The visit came amid Vatican concern over the fate of minority groups.

The Holy See often speaks out against anti-Christian violence in Iraq, Nigeria or Pakistan and Egypt, where tensions between Coptic Christians and certain Muslim groups run particularly high.

On Sunday Benedict XVI lamented the bloodshed in Syria, calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and a "cohabitation marked by harmony and unity" in the country, which has one of the world's oldest Christian communities.

Earlier in the month, the Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini discussed how to defend Christian minorities following deadly sectarian attacks in Egypt.

Relations between Egypt and the Holy See are tense, Vatican sources said, with any criticism from Benedict XVI often seized on by Islamist groups as an attack against Islam.

A New Year's Day bomb attack on a Coptic church in Egypt's northern port of Alexandria that killed 23 people tested relations between the Vatican and Egypt.

Egypt recalled its ambassador to the Vatican in January over alleged meddling by Pope Benedict, who had called for Egyptian authorities to provide better protection for the mainly Muslim country's Christian minority.

Ambassador Lamia Aly Hamada Mekhemar returned to her post mid-February after "positive signs" of reconciliation from the Vatican.

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