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Pope breaks silence, seeks end to Tibet suffering

Vatican City, March 19, 2008

Pope Benedict, on a diplomatic tightrope over the Vatican's tense relations with China, broke his silence on Tibet on Wednesday by calling for dialogue to end the 'suffering' of the people there.

'Violence does not solve problems, but only aggravates them,' he said at the end of his weekly general audience, adding that he was following events in Tibet 'with trepidation'.

It was his first public mention of the unrest in Tibet since the violence began there last week and followed calls by some Italian intellectuals for him to break his silence.

'We ask almighty God, source of light, to enlighten the minds of all and to give each one the courage to choose the path of dialogue and tolerance,' he said.

The Tibetan government-in-exile says 99 people died when Chinese security forces moved to quell rioting last week. The government in Beijing puts the death toll at 13.

'My heart as a father feels sadness and pain when I see the suffering of so many people,' he said, without mentioning China.

Benedict has made improving relations with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate and issued a 55-page open letter in June saying he sought to restore full diplomatic ties with Beijing that were severed two years after the 1949 Communist takeover.

Catholics in China are split between those who belong to a state-backed Church and an underground Church whose members are loyal to the Vatican.

Relations between the Vatican and Beijing have hit low points several times in recent years as the Vatican criticised China for appointing bishops without papal approval.

In 2006, Benedict accused China of 'grave violations of religious freedom'. Relations warmed significantly last September when the Vatican approved the installation of a new state-approved Catholic bishop of Beijing.

Last year, the Vatican did an about face over a meeting between the pope and the Dalai Lama.

A Vatican official told reporters in late October the pope had scheduled a meeting with the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism on December 13.

Beijing responded early in November by saying such a meeting would 'hurt the feelings of the Chinese people' and urged the Pontiff to show he 'is sincere in improving relations'.

Later that month, the Vatican said the pope had no plans to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Rome, saying they had met the previous year.-Reuters




Tags: Pope | Tibet | breaks | silence |

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