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Franciscan Father Joe Nagle celebrated Mass on Ash Wednesday Feb. 14 in Washington’s Lafayette Park by the White House. The Mass was part of a “Lenten Ceasefire Campaign” launched by some Catholic and other Christian groups.
Franciscan Father Joe Nagle celebrated Mass on Ash Wednesday Feb. 14 in Washington’s Lafayette Park by the White House. The Mass was part of a “Lenten Ceasefire Campaign” launched by some Catholic and other Christian groups.
Photo Credit: Kate Scanlon | OSV News

White House seeks pause in Israel-Hamas war as Lenten prayer campaign for cease-fire begins

Christian groups also began Lenten prayer campaign for cease-fire

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Feb. 12 the United States is seeking a six-week pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip as a step toward a more permanent cessation of hostilities. As Lent began Feb. 14, some Catholics gathered in front of the White House to pray for such a cease-fire as Israel readies a new offensive and Palestinian civilian casualties have soared.

As Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October attacks reaches its fifth month, the death toll of Palestinians killed during the war in Gaza has surpassed 28,000 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health officials.

Over 1% of Gaza’s pre-war 2.3 million population is now dead with 70% of homes reported damaged or destroyed. Nearly 1.4 million Palestinians taking refuge in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah are now squarely in the line of fire for Israel’s next ground offensive against Hamas.

Some Christian and Catholic groups launched on Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, a “Lenten Ceasefire Campaign,” which began with a Catholic Mass followed by an ecumenical public witness in Lafayette Square opposite the White House. The groups involved said they aimed “to call attention to and in mourning for the tens of thousands of lives that have been destroyed in Gaza and Israel” since Oct. 7.

Father Joe Nagle, a Franciscan friar who celebrated the Mass, said, “As a Catholic priest, a Christian Catholic in this country, I am really scandalized by what is happening all around the world and how much a part (of it) we are as a country.”

In a statement about the Lenten Ceasefire Campaign, Susan Gunn, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, said, “We mark ourselves with ashes outside of the White House to publicly recognize ourselves as sinners in need of changing our ways.”

“Like most Americans, we desperately want President Biden to change course in his response to the Israel-Hamas war,” Gunn said. “Too many people have died in Gaza under bombs supplied by the United States, the majority of hostages are still held, and the conflict is only spreading in the region. We need President Biden to call for a cease-fire now and use all diplomatic tools available to make it happen.”

Destroyed buildings lay in ruin in central Gaza, as seen from Israel Jan. 13 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border.
Photo Credit: Amir Cohen | Reuters
In Feb. 12 remarks after a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Biden said he was pursuing a pause in fighting, while also emphasizing the necessity of releasing the remaining hostages held by Hamas.

Biden, who has offered his staunch support to Israel in the wake of the attack, including traveling there in the aftermath, has reportedly grown frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the Palestinian civilian death toll rises.

A Feb. 2 AP/Norc poll found half of adults believe the military response from Israel has gone too far, up from 40% in the same poll in November. The same poll found six in 10 adults place “a lot of the blame” for the conflict on Hamas. Most Americans said it is extremely or very important to recover the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Israel said in February that 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity. Some of the approximately 250 hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7 were released during a brief cease-fire in November. Hamas also holds the remains of about 30 hostages who were either killed on Oct. 7 or died in their captivity.

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