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Smoke rose following Israeli strikes in Gaza Oct. 7. The strikes were in retaliation after Hamas breached Israeli security along the Gaza border at dawn and entered border communities amid a barrage of over 2,000 rockets that reached into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Smoke rose following Israeli strikes in Gaza Oct. 7. The strikes were in retaliation after Hamas breached Israeli security along the Gaza border at dawn and entered border communities amid a barrage of over 2,000 rockets that reached into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Photo Credit: Mohammed Salem | Reuters

Pope condemns terrorism, but expresses concern for Gaza civilians

In Jerusalem and worldwide, Church leaders call for peace following deadly attack by Hamas and Israeli strikes on Gaza

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis condemned Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel and pleaded with the militants to free their hostages unharmed, but he also expressed concern about Israel’s tightening siege on Gaza and its impact on innocent civilians.

“I continue to follow with sorrow and apprehension what is happening in Israel and Palestine. So many people killed, and others injured,” the pope said Oct. 11 at the end of his weekly general audience.

People mourned at the graveside of Eden Guez during her funeral in Ashkelon, Israel, Oct. 10. She was killed during an Oct. 7 music festival that was attacked by Hamas gunmen from Gaza.
Photo Credits: Violeta Santos Moura | Reuters
As the pope spoke, the Israeli Defense Forces website was reporting more than 1,200 Israelis killed by Hamas and more than 2,800 Israelis injured. At the same time, the Gaza Ministry of Health was reporting a death toll of more than 950 Palestinians and said 5,000 others were injured as Israel continued its airstrikes on Gaza.

The initial Hamas attack Oct. 7, the pope said, took place on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which marks the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll. “I pray for all those families that saw a day of celebration be transformed into a day of mourning,” the pope said.

“And I ask that the hostages be released immediately,” he continued. Israeli government officials have estimated that Hamas is holding some 150 Israeli hostages.

“One who is attacked has the right of self-defense,” the pope said, “but I am very concerned about the total siege under which Palestinians are living in Gaza, where there also have been many innocent victims.”

“Terrorism and extremism will not help reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but only increase hatred, violence and vengeance and only make each other suffer,” Pope Francis said.

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.” Thousands of people in Palestinian territories were 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 Heads 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.”

Palestinians inspected damage in the aftermath of Israeli strikes in Gaza City, Oct. 9. The Hamas-Israel war has entered a new phase, with more than 1,100 dead.
Photo Credits: Mohammed Salem | Reuters
“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 Cardinal Pizzaballa, who became the first resident cardinal in Jerusalem’s history during a Sept. 30 consistory in Rome.

The attack took place under the barrage of thousands of rocket attacks, which were largely intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome defense system.

Hamas breached Israel’s security gate in the early morning Oct. 7 and infiltrated dozens of Israel border communities, killing people in their cars and homes and taking others hostage, including several elderly people, a mother with her two preschool-aged daughters, young people and foreign workers. Soldiers were also taken hostage. Social media videos showed captives and bodies of dead Israelis paraded through the streets of Gaza.

One video showed a terrified young woman being pulled by the hair and transferred from one jeep into another by armed Hamas gunmen. In another video, the body of a young man in shorts taken from a kibbutz, a Jewish communal settlement, was paraded through the streets on the back of a motorcycle.

The attack follows a year of increasing violence from both settlers and the Israel Defense Forces after the election of Israel’s far-right nationalist government.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces also exchanged fire with Hezbollah over the weekend as Lebanon’s militant group fired dozens of rockets and shells at Israeli positions in a disputed area along the country’s northern border.

U.S. bishops pray for peace

Several U.S. bishops called for prayers for peace following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, called for prayers for peace in the Holy Land and decried the “continued tensions and violence that erupted into warfare between Gaza and Israel.”

“The world is once again shocked and horrified by the outbreak of ferocious violence in the Holy Land. Reports have surfaced indicating large numbers of wounded and dead, including many civilians,” Bishop Malloy said in an Oct. 8 statement.

“As we pray urgently for peace, we recall especially all the families and individuals suffering from these events,” Bishop Malloy’s statement said, adding calls for respect for civilian populations and the release of hostages.

Other bishops joined the calls for peace for those affected by the violence. Archbishop Mitchell T. Rosanski of St. Louis issued a statement on social media: “My prayers of peace and solidarity go out to the attacked people of Israel, and to our Jewish community we know as partners, neighbors, and friends in St. Louis. As communities of faith, we know that violence has no place in our hearts and way of life. We recognize that this escalation of violence impacts all families in the region and has lasting effects on present and future generations. Mindful of our religious calling to work for justice and peace in service of the common good, we must, again, condemn any acts of aggression that fuel hate and bring devastation for those in need of greater peace, comfort, and solidarity. As Christians, too, we must recall our commitment to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12: 31) and join people of good will in exhorting all involved to work for the cessation of violence and pursue the path of dialogue and peace.”

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