By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — “War is a defeat,” Pope Francis insisted as he called for prayers for peace in Israel and Palestine.
Speaking to thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 8 for the recitation of the Angelus prayer, the pope said he is following events in Israel and Gaza “with apprehension and sorrow.”
A day earlier, militants in Gaza launched a massive attack on southern Israel, firing rockets and breaching the border.
“The violence has exploded even more ferociously, causing hundreds of deaths and casualties,” the pope told people gathered for the midday Sunday prayer. By the time he spoke, Israeli officials were reporting at least 250 people had been killed and officials in Gaza said the death toll among Palestinians was over 300.
“I express my closeness to the families and victims,” Pope Francis said. “I am praying for them and for all who are living hours of terror and anguish.”
“May the attacks and weapons cease,” he said. “Please!”
“And let it be understood that terrorism and war do not lead to any resolutions, but only to the death and suffering of so many innocent people,” Pope Francis said. “War is a defeat! Let us pray that there be peace in Israel and in Palestine.”
During October, the month traditionally devoted to the rosary, the pope asked Catholics to pray for Mary’s intercession “for the gift peace in the many countries throughout the world marked by war and conflicts. And let us continue to remember the dear Ukraine, which suffers so much every day, which is so battered.”
Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem united in a call for peace and justice amid unfolding violence, following a surprise attack by Hamas in southern Israel, which has left around 600 Israelis dead, among them civilians and dozens of soldiers and police who were killed battling the Hamas fighters. Over 2,000 people were injured.
Latin Patriarchate calls for de-escalation
Fears of a ground invasion of Gaza are growing after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to turn the besieged Palestinian enclave into a “deserted island,” while the latest reported death toll of Palestinians is 313. Thousands of people in Palestinian territories are injured in Israeli airstrikes, which began hours following the Hamas attack.
“The Holy Land, a place sacred to countless millions around the world, is currently mired in violence and suffering due to the prolonged political conflict and the lamentable absence of justice and respect for human rights,” The Patriarchs and Head of the Churches in Jerusalem said in an Oct. 7 joint statement.
As custodians of the Christian faith, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches said they “stand in solidarity with the people of this region, who are enduring the devastating consequences of continued strife.”
“We unequivocally condemn any acts that target civilians, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or faith,” said the Patriarchs, among them Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Cardinal Pizzaballa expressed “condemnation” and great concern in an Oct. 7 interview with the Italian Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire.
“We need to stop the violence and then apply diplomatic pressure to prevent the game of retaliation from becoming a vicious cycle from which it is difficult to escape. So (we must) try to bring back a minimum of reasonableness between the parties. Even if it seems difficult right now,” said Pizzaballa, who became the first resident cardinal in Jerusalem’s history during a Sept. 30 consistory in Rome.
The Latin Patriarchate announced the postponement of all ceremonies to honor the newly created cardinal due to the current situation. The patriarchate also called for all Oct. 8 Masses to be offered for the intention of a ceasefire and an end to the “ongoing war in the Holy Land to prevent further bloodshed, shattering of lives and burial of hopes.”
“May all religious leaders work to calm the situation and calm down the spirits. In short, let no one throw fuel on the fire. And I hope for prayers for peace. And already today we will carry out an initiative in this sense in all our churches,” Cardinal Pizzaballa told Avvenire.