Pope Benedict XVI prayed for a peaceful ending of the political unrest in Egypt, and the Vatican spokesman said he hoped the changes in the area would lead to greater religious freedom.
"In these days I am following closely the fragile situation of the dear Egyptian nation," the pope told pilgrims at his noon blessing at the Vatican Feb. 6.
"I ask God that this land, blessed by the attendance of the Holy Family, may find again tranquility and peaceful coexistence, in a shared commitment to the common good," the pope said.
It was Pope Benedict's first remark on nearly two weeks of protest demonstrations that have shaken President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year hold on power.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, reviewed the political turmoil in Egypt in a commentary Feb. 5 on Vatican Radio. He said it was not wrong to speak of a "revolution" in countries of North Africa and the Middle East, where extensive political opposition has emerged for the first time.
Father Lombardi said that along with economic causes of the unrest, many people of the region -- particularly young people -- want more freedom and a more responsive government. He noted that at the new Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, leaders of Christian minorities there made similar calls for religious freedom.
"Now there are whole populations that, in order to more fully realize their dignity, are asking to exercise more responsibly the right of citizenship that belongs to every person of whatever religion," the spokesman said.
"If these mostly Muslim nations succeed in the crucial undertaking of growth in dialogue, in the respect of the rights of everyone, in contribution and in freedom, then the world will be a safer place," Father Lombardi said.