Vatican steps up condemnation of Libya violence

The Vatican significantly sharpened its condemnation of the violent attack in Libya that killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. State Department personnel.

The comments came as Pope Benedict XVI began a two-day visit to Lebanon on Friday.

“The very serious attack organized against the United States diplomatic mission in Libya, which led to the death of the ambassador and of other functionaries, calls for the firmest possible condemnation on the part of the Holy See,” said a statement Thursday by Vatican chief spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

“Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence. Along with our sadness, mourning and prayers for the victims, we again express the hope that, despite this latest tragedy, the international community may discover the most favorable ways to continue its commitment in favor of peace in Libya and the entire Middle East,” the statement added.

The remarks update a Vatican statement that had not mentioned the murders of the diplomats and had come under criticism for not having condemned the violence in firm enough terms.

The violence broke out in Libya and other countries after reports of an American-made anti-Islam film trailer on YouTube. The Libyan attack was likely a spontaneous one followed by an organized attack a few hours later that was possibly led by anti-American infiltrators into the country, the New York Times reported on Friday.

In the Vatican’s initial statement, Lombardi had decried the “tragic results” of “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslim sensitivities.

The Pope’s visit is aimed at promoting dialogue and peace in the region. Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a particular concern of the Vatican.

Gilad Shalit gathering in Los Angeles celebrates the soldier’s return [VIDEO]

Just before the start of a community gathering early Tuesday morning in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Israeli Consul General David Siegel looked toward a set of giant TV screens to watch Gilad Shalit step out of a helicopter on his journey home to Israel.

“There he is,” Siegel said simply.

The 350 people gathered in the Beverly Hills ballroom erupted in applause as they watched continuing live coverage from Israel of Shalit’s return home after being held captive by Hamas in Gaza for more than five years.

It was the emotional highpoint of a community gathering which was organized in just two days by the Consul General’s office in collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Israeli Leadership Council.

Rabbis, community leaders, politicians, staff and members of Jewish organizations and others — including many young Israelis— filled the room.

“Today we are one people with one heart,” Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe told the assembly. Wolpe was one of about a dozen speakers, rabbis and cantors to briefly address the crowd. “We are all responsible for one another,” Wolpe said.

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