Vatican foreign minister met the ambassador yesterday hours after she was called back to Cairo

The Vatican foreign minister met Egypt’s ambassador to the Vatican yesterday after her government called her back to Cairo “for consultations”.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, whose formal title is Secretary for Relations with States, met the ambassador, Lamia Aly Hamada Mekhemar, just hours after she was told to return to Cairo in the wake of her government’s displeasure with Pope Benedict XVI’s appeal to the country to protect Christians.

The Vatican said in a written statement that it “fully supports the government’s concerns about ‘avoiding an escalation of clashes and tensions for religious reasons,’ and appreciates the efforts that it is taking in this direction”.

Egypt had described as “unacceptable” the Pope’s remarks about recent attacks against Christians in Egypt.

In an address to diplomats Pope Benedict recalled the December 31 bomb attack on a Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria that left 23 people dead.

He said the Alexandria bombing and attacks on Christians in Iraq were “yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities. Need we repeat it? In the Middle East, Christians are original and authentic citizens who are loyal to their fatherland and assume their duties toward their country.”

Hossam Zaki, Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the Pope’s statement represented “an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs” and announced it was recalling its ambassador to the Vatican “for consultation”.

The Vatican said that during the meeting between Archbishop Mamberti and Ambassador Mekhemar, she expressed the Egyptian government’s concerns “at this present difficult moment, and she was able to receive information and gather useful details in order to properly report on the Holy Father’s recent speeches, in particular on religious liberty and the protection of Christians in the Middle East”.