VATICAN CITY — The injury and death of so many innocent people, especially children, caused by escalating violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip is “terrible and unacceptable,” putting the area at risk of sinking into “a spiral of death and destruction,” Pope Francis said.
The pope launched an appeal for calm and asked leaders of both sides “to put a stop to the roar of weapons and to follow the paths of peace, even with the help of the international community,” he said May 16 after reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer with hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square.
“Many people have been injured and many innocent people have died. Among them are even children, and this is terrible and unacceptable. Their death is a sign that one does not want to build the future, but wants to destroy it,” he said.
The growing hatred and violence in different cities in Israel “is a serious wound to fraternity and to peaceful coexistence among citizens, which will be difficult to heal if we do not open immediately to dialogue,” the pope said, asking, “Where will hatred and vengeance lead? Do we really think we can build peace by destroying the other?”
The pope appealed for calm, a cease-fire and constant prayers so that “Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, to be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step by step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers and sisters.”
He then led those gathered in the square in praying the Hail Mary for the victims, the children and for peace.
Pope Francis’ appeal May 16 came as Israel escalated its assault on Gaza and it also faced growing civil unrest in its mixed Jewish-Arab cities.
Jewish mobs had destroyed Arab property, and Arab mobs attacked Jewish businesses and burned synagogues, with attempted lynchings on both sides over the past week.
The violence between Israel and Hamas was at its worst since the 2014 Gaza War, with Israeli airstrikes and hundreds of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip killing at least 145 Palestinians and 10 Israelis, according to Reuters May 16. Efforts by the international community were underway to broker a cease-fire.
The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace was among those calling on Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence in Jerusalem and Gaza.
“The maiming and killing of one’s neighbor only serves to demonize one’s adversary and deepen passions that divide and destroy,” Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, said in a May 13 statement released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Malloy said the U.S. bishops have long supported upholding the Status Quo of the Holy Places, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The status quo is an understanding among religious communities regarding nine shared religious sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank.
“We affirm the need to adhere to international law in settling these disputes, rightly rooted in moral law, the rights of nations, and equal dignity of every people,” Bishop Malloy said.
The statement said the U.S. bishops join Pope Francis, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and others who have “called on the international community to intervene in the promotion of a just peace in the Holy City.”
“We especially offer our prayers for all those who rightfully call the Holy Land home, as it is through them any lasting peace will come,” he said. “May the primary adversaries in this conflict be given the guidance, strength and courage that only comes from on high to build trust amidst those who are eager for belligerence. With our suffering Lord as our model, we renew our enduring commitment to our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.”