Gerard O’ConnellMay 16, 2021
Pope Francis delivers his blessing during his weekly general audience in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican May 12, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis today expressed his “very great concern” at the armed clashes in Gaza and Israel and made an urgent, passionate appeal “to those with the responsibility” to bring a cease-fire and “to walk the path of peace” with the help of the international community. He also denounced the killing of children in this conflict as “terrible and unacceptable.”

“I follow with the greatest concern what is happening in the Holy Land,” Francis told hundreds of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at midday on Sunday, May 16, and a global audience following online.

“In these days, violent armed clashes have taken over between the Gaza Strip and Israel, and risk degenerating into a spiral of death and destruction,” the pope said.

Pope Francis today expressed his “very great concern” at the armed clashes in Gaza and Israel and made an urgent, passionate appeal “to those with the responsibility” to bring a cease-fire and “to walk the path of peace.”

“Numerous persons have been injured, and many innocent people have died—among them also children, and this is terrible and unacceptable. Their death is a sign that there is not the will to build the future but the [will] to destroy it,” the pope said.

As he spoke, news continued to arrive in the Vatican of the ongoing attacks and killings in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. According to the international and local media by Saturday evening at least 145 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, including 41 children, some of whom were in a refugee camp. Around 1,000 Palestinians have been injured in the attacks in Gaza, and 13 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured in the West Bank. At least 10 people in Israel have also been killed, including one child.

In addition, the 12-story building in Gaza City that housed the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other news media was destroyed by the Israelis, making it more difficult to report what is happening there.

“Furthermore, the crescendo of hate and violence involving various cities in Israel is a grave wound to fraternity and to the peaceful living together among the citizens, which will be difficult to heal if a dialogue is not opened immediately,” the pope said.

“Many innocent people have died—among them also children, and this is terrible and unacceptable. Their death is a sign that there is not the will to build the future but the [will] to destroy it,” the pope said.

“I ask: Where will the hate and vendetta lead? Do we really think of building peace by destroying the other?” Pope Francis said in words that appeared to be addressed to Israeli and Palestinians alike and reflected his great concern at the risk of civil war there. The population of Israel is around 9.2 million people, of whom some 75 percent are Jewish, just over 20 percent are Israeli-Arab citizens (that is Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or documents), and just under 5 percent are classified as “other.”

He then appealed for a cease-fire, drawing on the human fraternity document that he had signed in Abu Dhabi with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, on Feb. 4, 2019:

In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, I appeal for calm and, to those that with the responsibility, [I appeal] to stop the sound of the arms and to walk on the path of peace with the help of the international community.

Then turning to the pilgrims and believers worldwide, Francis urged them, “Let us pray incessantly so that Israelis and Palestinians can find the road of dialogue and forgiveness, to become patient builders of peace and of justice, opening themselves, step by step, to a common hope and to a coexistence as brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis concluded his call for an end to the present hostilities, which have lasted on and off since 1948, by inviting those present in St. Peter’s Square and all those following the midday encounter, “Let us pray for the victims and, in particular, for the children. Let us pray for peace to the Queen of Peace.” He and the pilgrims then prayed the Hail Mary together.

He issued his appeal as the U.N. Security Council was due to meet, after a long delay, in New York to discuss the dramatic crisis in the Holy Land and hopefully agree to the call for an immediate cease-fire.

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