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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 03, 2024
Pope Francis gives his blessing at the end of the recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 11, 2024. On March 3, he renewed his call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza while while speaking to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)Pope Francis gives his blessing at the end of the recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 11, 2024. On March 3, he renewed his call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza while while speaking to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Pope Francis called for “an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and in the entire [Middle Eastern] region” at the noon prayer in the Vatican on March 3. He further encouraged “the continuation of negotiations” to bring about the release of hostages taken in the Hamas attack on Israel and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the hungry and impoverished Palestinians in Gaza.

“I carry in my heart every day, with pain, the suffering of the populations in Palestine and in Israel, because of the ongoing hostilities,” he told the thousands of pilgrims and Romans gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“I carry in my heart every day, with pain, the suffering of the populations in Palestine and in Israel.”

“Thousands of dead, wounded, displaced people, enormous destruction, cause sorrow, and this with tremendous consequences on the little ones and the defenseless who see their future compromised,” he said.

The pope was referring to the toll of death and destruction that has taken place since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed around 1,200 Israelis and saw 240 others taken into Gaza as hostages. Many of the latter have since been released, but 134 Israelis and foreign nationals are still in captivity. Israel has retaliated with an incessant bombardment of Gaza that has killed about 30,000 Palestinians (including more than 13,000 children), according to the Gaza Ministry for Health, and forced some 1.7 million Palestinians into the southernmost corner of the Gaza Strip.

“Does one truly think of building a better world in this way? Does one truly think of reaching peace [in this way]?” the pope asked on Sunday.

“Stop, please! Let us all say: Enough, please! Stop!” he pleaded. His words drew strong applause.

“Does one truly think of building a better world in this way?”

He then urged the continuation of negotiations which the international media report to be underway in Cairo “so that the hostages may be released and return to their dear ones who wait for them with anxiety, and the civilian population may have secure access to the needed and urgent humanitarian aid.”

Francis has issued a call for a cease-fire many times, as have more than 150 countries of the world. This call has been tabled at least three times at the United Nations Security Council, with the United States using its veto power to block the resolution.

The pope concluded his greeting to the crowd by also asking them to pray for the people of Ukraine, who are suffering from a war that started in February 2022. “Please let us not forget the martyred Ukraine, where every day many people die. There is so much sorrow there,” he said.

Pope Francis’ appeal for an immediate cease-fire” re-echoed the call made by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem to “reach an immediate and lengthy ceasefire that allows for the speedy disbursement of relief supplies throughout the Gaza Strip, and for the enactment of a negotiated release of those held as captives and prisoners.” Their call came in the following statement issued in Jerusalem on March 1:

In the early morning hours of Thursday, February 29th, according to eye-witness testimonies, Israeli forces in southwest Gaza City opened fire on crowds of civilians seeking to receive sacks of flour to feed their starving families. The ensuing carnage resulted in the death of more than a hundred Gazans, with hundreds more seriously injured. Doctors on the scene and at receiving hospitals reported that most were killed or injured by gunfire, with some becoming victimized after being either trampled by panicked crowds or hit by aid trucks fleeing the horrific scene.
Although government spokesmen initially tried to deny the soldiers’ involvement in this incident, later that day Israel’s Minister of National Security not only praised IDF fighters for acting “excellently,” but also attempted to blame the victims for their own demise, charging that they had sought to harm heavily armed soldiers. He went on to assail the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza, arguing that it should cease.
That stated desire has already become a harsh reality for the half-million remaining in Gaza City, where aid deliveries have nearly halted because of heavy entry restrictions and lack of security escort for the delivery convoys. Humanitarian officials have so often warned of siege-induced famine in north Gaza that foreign governments of goodwill have been forced as a last resort to conduct humanitarian airdrops. Yet these offer only a tiny fraction of the relief that is needed for a remnant civilian population greater than that of Tel Aviv, Israel’s second largest city.
In the aftermath of yesterday’s horrifying events and their cruel context, We, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, condemn this wanton attack against innocent civilians and call for the warring parties to reach an immediate and lengthy ceasefire that allows for the speedy disbursement of relief supplies throughout the Gaza strip, and for the enactment of a negotiated release of those held as captives and prisoners.
While expressing these entreaties on behalf of all innocents suffering from the war, we convey our special prayers of support to the Christian communities in Gaza under our pastoral care. These include the more than 800 Christians who have now taken refuge in St. Porphyrios and Holy Family Churches in Gaza City for nearly five months.
We likewise extend these same expressions of solidarity to the intrepid staff and volunteers of the Anglican-run Ahli Hospital, and to the patients they serve. In issuing the above calls, our ultimate hope is that the end of hostilities, the release of captives, and the care of the downtrodden will open a horizon for serious diplomatic discussions that finally lead to a just and lasting peace here in the land where our Lord Jesus Christ first took up his cross on our behalf.
May God grant us all his grace as we seek the fulfillment of this hopeful Easter vision.

 

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