Churches call for de-escalation in Holy Land after Hamas attack
By Lisa Zengarini
Pope Francis’ impassioned appeal for peace in the Holy Land during the Angelus on Sunday is one of the several voices from Churches around the world calling for an immediate de-escalation of the violence unleashed on 7 October by an Hamas attack which prompted Israel to issue an official declaration of war (“Operation Swords of Iron”).
Death toll rising
The Palestinian Islamist organization’s unprecedented land-sea-air military operation (“Al-Aqsa Storm”), considered to be the deadliest terrorist attack on Israel in its modern history, reportedly killed over 700 Israelis, including many civilians, while around 100 were taken hostage.
The Palestinian death toll in Israeli retaliatory strikes has risen to over 400, and more than 2,750 people have been wounded. Tens of thousands (70,000 according to UNRWA, the UN agency that provides essential services to Palestinians) in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have fled their homes.
Military activities harming both Palestinian and Israeli civilians
Along with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which has also called for preserving the Status Quo in all the Holy Places in the Holy Land, and in Jerusalem in particular, Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in the Holy City have joined in urging for the immediate “cessation of all violent and military activities that bring harm to both Palestinian and Israeli civilians”.
The Church leaders expressed their solidarity with the people of the region, “who are enduring the devastating consequences of continued strife.”
In a statement issued in the wake of “Al-Aqsa Storm”, they “unequivocally condemn any acts that target civilians, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or faith”, saying that “such actions go against the fundamental principles of humanity and the teachings of Christ, who implored us to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’."
Lasting solutions for peace in the Holy land
The Church leaders in Jerusalem further implored political leaders and authorities “to engage in sincere dialogue, seeking lasting solutions that promote justice, peace, and reconciliation for the people of this land, who have endured the burdens of conflict for far too long.”
They also urged the international community “to redouble its efforts to mediate a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, based on equal rights for all and on international legitimacy.”
WCC: Violence can't provide path to peace or justice
These words are echoed by the World Council of Churches (WCC), which has appealed urgently “for an immediate cessation of this deadly violence, for Hamas to cease their attacks and ask both parties for de-escalation of the situation.”
“We are deeply concerned about the imminent risks of spiraling conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, and of the inevitably tragic consequences for the people of the region – Israelis and Palestinians alike – following a period of escalating tensions and violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” said WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay in a statement.
“The current attacks threaten only more violence; they cannot provide a path to peace or to justice”, Pillay added, urging all WCC member Churches to join in prayer for a just peace in the Holy Land and “in solidarity with all the people affected and threatened by violence.”
Cardinal Nichols: violence is never a solution
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), for his part, has reiterated that “Violence is never a solution. Retribution is never a contribution to peace."
He also invited the faithful to pray “so that the Holy Spirit may bring peace in the Holy Land, for all who have lost their lives and for the immediate release of those taken hostage, especially for the small but active Catholic community in Gaza City who at this moment will be reaching out courageously to their neighbours, trying to offer shelter and support.”
The U.S. Bishops have also called for a cessation of violence from both sides, and for U.S. Catholics the to pray for peace.
“May all who love the Holy Land seek to bring about among all the parties engaged in the fighting a cessation of violence, respect for civilian populations and the release of hostages,” said Bishop David Malloy , chairma of the International Peace and Justice Committee of the U.S. Bishops' Conference (USCCB).
Fr. Romanelli (Gaza): everything can be lost with war
Father Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest of the Holy Family, the only Catholic parish in the Gaza serving some 1,000 Catholics, told Fides agency that the prevailing sentiment of the Gazawi people is a feeling of uncertainty on what is going to happen next, in light of what happened in the past, in similar, but less serious circumstances.
“In the face of all this,” said the Argentinian-born priest, “Pope Pius XII’s appeal before the outbreak of the Second World War continually comes to mind: nothing is lost with peace, everything can be lost with war."