Christian Communities

Gadhafi made several statements against Christianity, alleging in 1992 that those requesting that Libya give up the Lockerbie bombers were “Western Christian crusaders” trying to start “a new global conflict between Christianity and Islam” . In a 2007 prayer meeting in Niger, Gadhafi said that “Christianity is not a faith for people in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Other people who are not sons of Israel have nothing to do with that religion.” Despite these statements, Christian groups have existed in Libya for years and have diversified in the past century thanks to the arrival of multiple immigrant groups. Relations between Libya’s Muslims and Christians remained largely peaceful under Gadhafi’s rule. Christians were permitted to worship freely as long as they refrained from political activity and proselytizing, though the state did limit church construction to one per city. Up until February 2011, Libya maintained high-level dialogues with several Christian denominations, including the Church of England, the Catholic Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. In 2003, Gadhafi awarded Pope Shenouda, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch from Egypt, the Gadhafi Prize Association’s prize for Peace and Promotion of Human Rights.  Gadhafi also invited the Archbishop of Canterbury to make an unprecedented trip to Libya in January 2009 as part of the regime's rapprochement with its Christian population. The Libyan government even arranged for the Archbishop to lead a prayer at a historic 19th-century Anglican Church in downtown Tripoli.

Most Christians in Libya are immigrants from Egypt or Sub-Saharan Africa, and compose around 1% of the population. Coptic Christians from Egypt number about 60,000 and are led by bishops in Tripoli and Benghazi. There are three Coptic churches in Libya. Roman Catholics make up the next largest group of Libyan Christians, at around 40,000 members. The Catholic Church runs St. Francis Catholic Church in Tripoli and Church of the Immaculate Conception in Benghazi. Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, born in Tarhuna, serves as bishop of Tripoli, while Sylvester C. Magro, from Rabat, serves as bishop of Benghazi. In February 2012, the interim Interior Ministry issued a statement condemning the desecration of graves in a Catholic cemetery in Benghazi. The Ministry stressed that such actions are illegal and contrary to the tenets of Islam. A small Anglican community, part of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, primarily consists of African immigrant workers living in Tripoli. The Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa runs St. Mary’s Church in Tripoli. Bill Andrew Musk serves as the regional bishop for Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia. A primarily immigrant population of Orthodox Christians from places like Greece, Russia, and the Ukraine also lives in Libya. The Patriarchate of Alexandria has appointed Theophylaktos as Metropolitan of Tripoli. He served as dean of Tripoli’s Cathedral of St. George. The Patriarchate formed the Holy Archdiocese of Tripoli in 1866. Orthodox Christians worship in Holy Church of the Annunciation in Benghazi. In October 2008 His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa visited Benghazi and Tripoli, while also delivering a speech on the importance of unity in the midst of diversity at Libya’s Islamic Center of Studies.

Next: Jews in Libya