Pope John Paul II called on Lebanon's sizable Roman Catholic (search) population Friday to work to preserve their nation's peace, deploring in a condolence telegram this week's massive bombing in Beirut that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search) and 16 others.

Denouncing the "terrible attack" as a "criminal act which offends God and men created in His likeness," John Paul prayed for God's mercy to be felt in the Middle East, according to the text of the telegram sent to Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir (search), patriarch of Antioch of the Maronite faithful.

The pope urged Lebanon's Catholics to commit themselves to work for peace, joining "all men of goodwill to build, through dialogue, a future of harmony among the countries and the peoples of the region."

Christians, most of them Catholics, are a sizable minority in Lebanon. Although their numbers have declined and their political influence has waned in recent years, Christians remain a force in the country.

John Paul visited Lebanon in 1997, several years after its devastating, 15-year civil war ended.