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Gerard O’ConnellOctober 08, 2023
Palestinians wave their national flag and celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis southern Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Yousef Masoud)

Pope Francis appealed for “a stop to the armed attacks” on Sunday, Oct. 8, as fighting continued between Hamas and Israeli forces in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, and Israeli jets continued bombing buildings in Gaza City. He called on people worldwide “to pray that there be peace in Israel and Palestine.”

He made his measured appeal when he greeted thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square at midday on Sunday. He began by saying that he was following “with apprehension and pain…what is happening in Israel where the violence exploded even more rapidly causing hundreds of deaths and wounded,” referring to the previous day’s unexpected attack on Israel by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip.

“I express my closeness to the families of the victims,” he said. “I pray for them and for all those who are living through hours of terror and anxiety.”

“Let the armed attacks stop, please,” he said. “Let it be understood that terrorism and war bring no solution but only death and the suffering of many innocent people. War is a defeat. Every war is a defeat. Let us pray that there be peace in Israel and in Palestine.”

He called on people to pray the rosary in the month of October for an end to the many conflicts in the world, and especially the one in “beloved Ukraine, which is suffering much and is martyred.”

The Hamas surprise attack on Israel took place on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings. It came a day after the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the 1973 War, led by Egypt and Syria, that began with a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest feast day.

The Hamas attack has led to the deaths of more than 400 Israelis and the injury of close to 1,000, while the Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed over 320, and wounded nearly 2,000, in a conflict that many fear could escalate further, according to the BBC. Israel said it killed 400 Hamas militants.

Hamas has taken some 100 Israeli hostages, both soldiers and civilians, into Gaza, according to the BBC and Israeli sources. BBC analysts reckon that the hostages could be used as bargaining chips to get the release of many if not all of the 6,000 Palestinians currently in Israeli prisons. For its part, Israel said its forces have captured Palestinian militants.

The attack came from the Gaza Strip, the most densely populated place in the world with a population of over two million people in an area of 141 square miles, which the Latin Patriarch, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, described as “an open-air prison,” in response to a question from America on Sept. 28, referring to the fact that Israel controls all that goes in and out. Today, according to the BBC, Israel cut off the supply of electricity as it pounded the city with aerial bombardments.

The situation that provoked the attack “is a fruit of the disengagement of various formerly important actors, the United States in particular,” a senior Vatican source told America, referring to the lack of any serious initiative in recent times to seek a negotiated solution to the decades-old conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Cardinal Pizzaballa, in Rome for the Synod on Synodality, told Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, that he “fear[ed] the situation could get much worse” and feared “the extension of the conflict” because of the kidnapping of Israeli hostages.

“It’s necessary to stop the violence first of all,” he said, “and then put diplomatic pressure to prevent the vicious cycle of retaliation developing from which it is difficult to exit.” He said the occupied territories “are always like a volcano ready to explode” and there is “reciprocal mistrust” between Palestinians and Israelis. “It’s time to find different solutions,” he insisted. Religious leaders for their part should seek “to calm [the] souls of people.”

A statement issued on Oct. 7, the day of the attack, by the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, headed by Cardinal Pizzaballa, said: “The operation launched from Gaza and the reaction of the Israeli Army are bringing us back to the worst period of our recent history. The too-many casualties and tragedies, which both Palestinians and Israeli families have to deal with, will create more hatred and division, and will destroy more and more any perspective of stability.”

“We call on the international community, the religious leaders in the region and in the world, to make every effort in helping to de-escalate the situation, restore calm and work to guarantee the fundamental rights of people in the region,” the patriarchate said.

A Vatican source, who wished to remain anonymous, told America, “It’s an extremely dangerous situation, and the ramifications in the region could be very great.” He said this following news that Hezbollah had sent rockets into Israel, an Egyptian policeman had shot two Israeli tourists, and a rally supporting Palestinians was taking place in Istanbul.

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