Catholic leaders voice sorrow, dismay after violent outbreak in Holy Land

Pope Francis, calling war 'always a defeat,' made an appeal for peace in Israel and Palestine.

Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, Oct. 8, 2023. The militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multifront attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations, killing hundreds and taking captives. Palestinian health officials reported scores of deaths from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis and Catholic leaders voiced sorrow and concern over the sudden outbreak of violence in the Holy Land on Saturday and asked for peace and diplomacy to be restored in the region.

“I am following apprehensively and sorrowfully what is happening in Israel where the violence has exploded even more ferociously, causing hundreds of deaths and casualties,” said Francis during his weekly Angelus prayer on Sunday (Oct. 8).

While saying he held close in prayer those experiencing “hours of terror and anguish,” the pope stressed that war and terrorism only leads to further bloodshed. He pointed to the many conflicts that are occurring in the world, including in Ukraine, and made an appeal for peace.

“May the attacks and weaponry cease. Please!” he said. “War is a defeat! Every war is a defeat! Let us pray that there be peace in Israel and in Palestine.”

On Oct. 7, Palestinian Hamas militants launched a massive attack on Israel leading to hundreds of deaths and leaving many more wounded. The missile attacks and incursions into Israeli territory occurred as Jews celebrated the holiday Simchat Torah, when the liturgical reading of the Torah is completed and begins again, and as Catholics observed the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared the country is “at war.”

The second-highest ranking officer at the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also condemned the violence on Sunday while speaking to journalists. “The world seems to have gone crazy, it seems that we trust only in force, in violence, in conflict, to solve problems that are there, and very real, and that must be solved with very different methods,” he said.

Parolin, who as the Vatican’s Secretary of State oversees the city-state’s foreign relations, said that diplomatic efforts “do not seem to yield great results” and that paving the road to peace “will require much greater effort.”

The Vatican supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has offered to mediate for peace.

In a statement on Saturday, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, led by the newly made Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, urged the international community to deescalate the conflict and cautioned against unilateral proclamations concerning holy sites and places of worship.

“The continuing bloodshed and declarations of war remind us once again of the urgent need to find a lasting and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in this land, which is called to be a land of justice, peace and reconciliation among peoples” the statement read.

Pizzaballa was also among a number of Christian prelates who published a statement (Oct. 7) condemning the violence and bloodshed. But according to the Israeli embassy to the Holy See, the statement suggested a “parallelism” between the Palestinian offensive on Saturday and violence by Israeli forces leading up to the conflict.

In a statement on Sunday (Oct. 8), the Israeli embassy to the Vatican criticized the “immoral linguistic ambiguities” of the Christian leaders in the Holy Land. “By reading the statement it’s hard to understand what happened, who were the aggressors and who were the victims,” it read.

Other Catholic leaders in the Middle East, meanwhile, urged the faithful to pray for the end of the conflict, even as they voiced pessimism. “I thought something might happen after the provocations and violence we witnessed in recent months,” said the Rev. Francesco Patton, head of the Franciscan order that is the official custodian of holy sites on behalf of the Catholic Church, on Monday.

The Rev. Gabriel Romanelli, a priest in the Catholic parish of the Holy Family in Gaza, warned Catholic media outlets Oct. 8 that the “situation is very serious” for people in the region. “No one knows where this will go, and unfortunately there are no signs hinting that what started yesterday will end any time soon.”

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