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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

                                                  Story 20
              Prediction 1 - Continued tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe

Pope condemns wave of 'abominable terrorist attacks'
By Catholic News Service

LES COMBES, Italy (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI decried a wave of "abominable terrorist attacks" in Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Britain and called on God to convert the hearts of those responsible for the bloodshed.

Such violent attacks "offend God and humanity," the pope said after praying the Angelus July 24 from the Alpine retreat where he was vacationing.

May "God stay the murderous hand" of the terrorists who are driven by "fanaticism and hatred" and may he "convert their hearts" to the ideals of reconciliation and peace, he said.

Bomb blasts July 23 at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh were the latest in a string of terrorist attacks to hit Europe and the Middle East. The predawn explosions in Egypt left at least 88 people dead, according to reports from local hospitals.

Upon hearing the news of the Red Sea resort-town blast, Pope Benedict expressed his "heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims" in a telegram sent July 23 to local church and government authorities.

The message, sent on behalf of the pope by the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, reiterated the pope's condemnation of such "senseless acts" of violence that cause "so much suffering to civilian populations."

"His holiness appeals to all to renounce the way of violence" and "instead to embrace the way of peace," the telegram said.

While investigators suspect diverse Islamic militant groups to be behind the different terrorist attacks, Pope Benedict told reporters he believed the violence was not aimed against Christianity.

"I feel the intention is far more general and not specifically against Christianity," he said July 25 after a meeting with priests and deacons of the Valle d'Aosta region where he is vacationing.

When asked by journalists whether Islam could be thought of as a religion of peace, the pope said, "I would not like to use big words to apply generic labels."

Islam "certainly contains elements that can favor peace; it also has other elements; we must always seek the best elements," he said.

Meanwhile, the Vatican's newspaper said the latest attack in Egypt marked another "chilling chapter" of horror.

On the front page of its July 24 edition, L'Osservatore Romano said the violence has put the Egyptian resort town on "that bleak map of terror" together with the world's other cities that have been targeted by terrorists.

The attacks have increasingly "taken on the shape of a diabolic design against humanity," the paper said.

The following day, the government of Israel formally expressed its disappointment that Pope Benedict had not listed Israel as one of the countries currently suffering because of terrorism.

A July 25 statement from the Israeli Embassy to the Vatican said, "The government maintains that such an omission strengthens the extremists who do not want peace and weakens the moderates."

Israel, the statement said, is "one of the principal victims of Islamic terrorism," and the government would have appreciated it if Pope Benedict had condemned the killing of innocent civilians there.

The statement added that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had called the Vatican's diplomatic representative, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to a meeting in Jerusalem to express its concern.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, vacationing with the pope in the Alps, issued a statement late July 25 saying, "One must keep in mind that the words of Pope Benedict XVI referred expressly to attacks 'in these days.'"

The spokesman said it was "surprising" that anyone would want to "distort" the words of the pope when his position and that of the Catholic Church always had been to "condemn every form of terrorism no matter where it comes from or against whom it is directed."

"Obviously, the serious attack in Netanya the other week (July 12), to which the remarks of the Israelis referred, is part of this general condemnation of terrorism without reservation," the spokesman said.

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