VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday expressed "great concern" over the crises in several African and Asian countries, mentioning Pakistan and Libya in particular.
Speaking after the weekly Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square at the Vatican, the head of the Roman Catholic Church urged that the "moving sacrifice" of Pakistan's murdered Catholic minorities minister, inspire "courage and commitment to strive for religious freedom for all men."
Shahbaz Bhatti, a vocal opponent of Pakistan's Islamic blasphemy law and promoter of interfaith dialogue, was shot dead in broad daylight in Islamabad on Wednesday.
Bhatti had defied death threats after the assassination of another political moderate who wanted to reform the legislation, which critics say is often misused to settle personal scores against vulnerable minorities.
"I follow with great concern the tensions in several countries in Africa and Asia in these days," the pope said in Italian.
Benedict then sent his thoughts and prayers to those caught up in the crisis in Libya, "where recent clashes have caused numerous deaths and a growing humanitarian crisis."
In his first official reaction to the crisis since the uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi began, the pontiff said: "To all the victims and those who find themselves in distressing situations I send my prayers."
"I ask for help and aid for the affected peoples," Benedict said.
On Wednesday, the pope expressed his concern over the crisis to the head of the World Food Programme in a private audience at the Vatican, after WFP head Josette Sheeran warned him of the growing numbers of refugees fleeing violence.
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