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Gerard O’ConnellApril 14, 2024
Pope Francis gives his blessing to people gathered in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 14, 2024, for his midday recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer. The pope pleaded with nations to exercise restraint and avoid an escalation of violence in the Middle East. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Pope Francis gives his blessing to people gathered in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 14, 2024, for his midday recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer. The pope pleaded with nations to exercise restraint and avoid an escalation of violence in the Middle East. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

On the morning after Iran’s attack on Israel, Pope Francis made “a heartfelt appeal” to “stop every action that could stoke the spiral of violence and risk dragging the Middle East into a much bigger war conflict.”

He also appealed for a ceasefire in Gaza, the release of the hostages and the provision of humanitarian aid to the 2.3 million Palestinians living there, the majority of whom are on the brink of starvation according to UN and humanitarian agencies.

Pope Francis issued his “urgent appeal” when he greeted thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square at midday on Sunday, April 14, after Israel threatened a military reprisal against Iran for the previous night’s attack.

It was the first time since the establishment of the Iranian Republic in 1979 that Iran, which has a population of 89 million, mostly Shiite Muslims, has directly attacked Israel, which has a population of nine million. Hitherto, the two countries, about 1,300 miles distant from each other, have engaged in a shadow war, with Iran using proxies such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, while Israel carried out attacks and assassinations of Iranian military commanders, as happened when it attacked the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1, which killed 7 Iranian military officers, including a top general. That latest attack provoked last night’s retaliation in which Iran, citing Article 51 of the UN Charter pertaining to self-defense, launched some 300 drones and missiles against Israel. The Israeli Defence Forces spokesman said 99 percent of them had been shot down, mostly by Israel but also by the United States, the United Kingdom and Jordan before they entered Israeli airspace.

“I follow with prayer, with concern and with pain, the news that arrived in these last hours of the deterioration of the situation in Israel because of the intervention by Iran,” the pope said.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to stop every action that could stoke the spiral of violence with the risk of dragging the Middle East into a much bigger war conflict,” he added in an appeal to prevent further escalation of the violence and the real risk of widening the war in the region. He has appealed on several occasions, including earlier this week, to avoid this risk of escalation and today he joined many world leaders including from the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East, in an appeal to Israel (though without naming it explicitly) not to make the situation even worse with an attack on Iranian soil.

“No one should threaten the existence of the other,” the pope said in what appeared to be an appeal to Iran (again without naming it), a country that has strongly supported the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian question is at the heart of the present conflict in the Middle East that started on Oct. 7 when Hamas, which Iran supports, attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 Israelis and taking over 200 hostages (133 are still being held hostage, though it seems that around 40 may have died).

“All nations should come down on the side of peace, and help the Palestinians and the Israelis to live in two states, side by side, in security. It is their profound and legitimate desire and it is their right. Two neighboring states!” Pope Francis said.

“Let a ceasefire be soon reached in Gaza, and the path of negotiations be pursued, negotiations with determination,” the pope pleaded, even as news arrived that the negotiations have stalled yet again.

The Argentine pope again drew attention to the dramatic situation in Gaza where the majority of its 2.3 million inhabitants are suffering a humanitarian catastrophe due to the Israeli bombing in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack. More than 33,000 have been killed as a result of the bombing, including over 14,500 children, and some 76,000 have been injured according to the Gaza’s Ministry for Health, and now the vast majority of the population are suffering from starvation, and already 31 children have died as a result, various medical groups have said.

“Let help be given to that population who have fallen into a humanitarian catastrophe,” Francis pleaded.

He appealed yet again to Hamas (without naming it): “Let the hostages who were kidnapped months ago be immediately released.” Earlier last week, he met family members of the hostages.

Commenting on this whole tragic situation after six months of war in Gaza, Pope Francis said, “How much suffering!” He invited those in St. Peter’s Square, among them many from the United States, “Let us pray for peace.”

The Jesuit pope ended his peace appeal with these words: “Stop the war. Stop the attacks. Stop the violence. Yes to dialogue, and yes to peace!”

The thousands of Romans and pilgrims in the square responded with sustained applause.

Francis then went on to remind the world that “the church will celebrate the first World Day of Children, on May 26.” Addressing the children, he said, “We wait for you. We need your joy, your desire for a better world, a world in peace.”

He concluded his message: “Let us pray, brothers and sisters for the children that are suffering from war. There are many in Ukraine, in Palestine, in Israel, in other parts of the world, and in Myanmar. Let us pray for them and for peace.”

[Correction: This text has been updated to correct a misspelling of “Shiite.”]

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