By Hadi Fornaji.
Tunis, 8 February 2017:
Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, the Roman Catholic bishop in Tripoli for the past 32 years, has retired.
Born near Tarhouna on 5 February 1942, he returned to Libya in 1971 as a priest and was then named Vicar Apostolic (in effect bishop) of Tripoli by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
He was based at San Francesco church in central Tripoli which became the only Catholic church in Tripoli in 1971; the former Catholic cathedral in Algeria Square is now Jamal Abdel Nasser Mosque.
In poor health in recent years, he was often in Italy for treatment. Nonetheless, he had said on several occasions he wanted to remain in Tripoli, making it clear retirement was not on his mind. However, Pope Francis is strictly enforcing the rule that bishops must retire at the age of 75 and appointed George Bugeja as the person who would succeed Martinelli in September 2015. He now takes over.
Martinelli attracted international attention during the revolution in 2011 when he condemned NATO bombing and described Qaddafi as a “friend” – a situation which afterwards saw him firmly avoiding contact with the media.