JERSUALEM — Warning against a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and ongoing conflicts elsewhere, Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting, penance and prayer for peace in the world Oct. 27.
“War does not solve any problems, it only sows death and destruction. It increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War erases the future,” he said at the end of his general audience talk in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 18.
“Our thoughts go to Palestine and Israel,” he said to applause.
“Casualties are rising and the situation in Gaza is desperate,” he said. “Please, may everything possible be done to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“Silence the weapons. Listen to the cry of the poor, the people, the children, for peace,” the pope said.
He urged all people of faith to take “just one side in this conflict: that of peace. But not with words, with prayer, with total dedication.”
For this reason, he said, he has decided to call for a day of fasting, prayer and penance Oct. 27.
The pope invited men and women of every Christian denomination and other religions as well as those committed to the cause of peace to participate in any way they feel is appropriate.
There will be an hour of prayer starting at 6 p.m. Rome time in St. Peter’s “imploring for peace in the world,” he said, and local churches are invited to organize similar initiatives.
Religious leaders in the Holy Land called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace on Oct. 17. That day, an explosion hit the Christian hospital in Gaza City where hundreds of people were being treated, but also where hundreds were taking shelter. Palestinian officials said about 500 people died.
While Palestinian officials said the hospital was hit in an Israeli strike, the Israel Defense Forces said intelligence showed Palestinian Islamic Jihad group was responsible for the “failed rocket launch” that struck the Anglican-run al-Ahli Arab Hospital.
The hospital was sheltering more than 5,000 people at the time of the strike, said Joseph Hazboun, regional director for CNEWA’s Jerusalem office. CNEWA, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, is a pontifical charity founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926 to help residents of “historic but unstable” lands of the ancient Eastern Churches — the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. The Catholic organization supports the hospital.
“The rocket hit the children’s playground and the courtyard in front of the library, at the back of the hospital,” Hazboun said. “The area hit was the place where most of the psychosocial program activities were organized in recent years.”
The United Nations World Health Organization issued a statement strongly condemning the attack on the hospital, one of 20 in the north of the Gaza Strip facing evacuation orders from the Israeli military.
“The order for evacuation has been impossible to carry out given the current insecurity, critical condition of many patients, and lack of ambulances, staff, health system bed capacity, and alternative shelter for those displaced,” said the WHO statement.
With the possibility of an Israel land incursion into Gaza still unclear, the majority of the Gazan Christian community has gathered at the Catholic and Greek Orthodox church compounds, and community leaders have been amassing necessary supplies to last for at least a month with support from CNEWA.
“They bought barrels of water for washing and normal use and bought enough drinking water for at least a month. We also supplied canned food, spaghetti, rice,” Hazboun said. Much of the purchases have been bought on credit including hygiene kits and fire extinguishers, he said, and they will need to raise almost $25,000.
A surprise terrorist attack by Hamas on communities along the southern Israeli border with Gaza killed more than 1,400 Israelis. Some 199 Israelis are now being held captive in Gaza, and family members fear they may be killed in the Israeli retaliation attacks. More than 2,800 Palestinians in Gaza have died since.
An estimated 1 million people have been displaced in Gaza in one week, a United Nations spokesperson said after Israel also issued warnings to Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate to the south as they aim to eliminate Hamas’ leadership.
Israel says it is bombing Hamas targets and has warned civilians in the area to move by dropping pamphlets from the air. As of Oct. 16, Hamas had lobbed more than 6,000 missiles into Israel as well, and though Israel’s defensive system known as the Iron Dome has intercepted most of them, some have landed on buildings killing several Israelis.
U.S. President Joe Biden traveled to Israel Oct. 18.
Though initially Israel cut off all fuel, electricity and water to Gaza, they have allowed for a humanitarian corridor so Palestinians can move south and have allowed for access to water.
Egypt has not yet opened its Rafah crossing in the south of Gaza for local residents and foreign nationals wanting to leave. Some 60 Brazilian laypeople who had been visiting Gaza had taken shelter with the Rosary Sisters but moved to the church compound following an Israeli bombing and are now awaiting coordination to be able to leave through the Rafah crossing, which Egypt is delaying opening for fear of having to absorb millions of Gazans attempting to escape.
Human rights groups have said the forced evacuation and bombings could constitute a war crime, while Israelis say the terrorist attack which killed civilians was also tantamount to war crimes.
Pope Francis called the assistant parish priest, Father Yusuf Assad, who is with the parishioners in the Holy Family parish, and they asked the pope to pray for peace in Gaza and for the people who are suffering. They hold nightly prayers to sustain the people who have sought safety with them.
Along with his call for an international day of prayer and fasting on Oct. 17, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch, issued a special message for the Christian youth urging them also to pray, noting that while the prayer may not change reality immediately, it did “spark a light.” He also took part in a coordination meeting for Christian nongovernmental organizations to set up relief funds for Gaza.
Cdl. Pizzaballa offers himself in exchange for Israeli hostages
By Justin McLellan | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church’s highest ranking prelate in the Holy Land offered his “absolute availability” to be exchanged for Israeli children taken hostage by Hamas.
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told reporters during an online meeting Oct. 16 that he is willing to do “anything” to “bring to freedom and bring home the children” taken into Gaza during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which more than 1,300 Israelis were killed. The Israeli military said Oct. 16 that some 200 people, including children and elderly persons, are being held hostage.
Returning the hostages held in Gaza is “absolutely necessary” to stopping the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas, the cardinal said. He expressed the Vatican’s willingness to assist in de-escalation and mediation efforts but said they had not been able to speak with Hamas.
Cardinal Pizzaballa said some 1,000 Christians in Gaza are currently sheltering in Church-affiliated buildings because “they don’t know where to go and moving is dangerous.”
While Christians concentrated in northern Gaza were told to leave the area by the Israeli military, “practically all have chosen to stay there because it is safer for them to stay, since the situation is even more delicate elsewhere.” The cardinal said none of the Christians sheltering in Gaza have been killed.
“Moving is dangerous because many die in transfers,” and “possible places of refuge are already overflowing; there is no place to go,” he said.
The cardinal said that some 500 Christians are sheltering at a Latin-rite church, some 400 are in a Greek Orthodox church and approximately 300 are at a YMCA. “Supplies are beginning to run short,” he said. “We try, through our contacts, to make as many physical supplies as possible reach (them), provisions such as medicine, water, even generators.”
Cardinal Pizzaballa said the Catholic Church, in coordination with humanitarian agencies, is “trying to insist” that a humanitarian corridor can be opened into Gaza to allow basic necessities to be brought in.