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Gerard O’ConnellOctober 15, 2023
Palestinian children look at the building of the Zanon family, destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Pope Francis called for the respect of “humanitarian rights…above all in Gaza,” as well as the guarantee of “humanitarian corridors” and the release of the hostages, when he addressed pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square at midday on Sunday, Oct. 15. He invited all believers to join the Holy Land churches in prayer and fasting next Tuesday, Oct. 17, for peace and reconciliation in that war-torn land.

“I continue to follow with much pain what is happening in Israel and Palestine,” the pope told thousands of pilgrims after reciting the Angelus prayer with them.

“I am thinking of the many [people], especially the little ones and the elderly,” he said, referring to the victims in Gaza. Over 400,000 Palestinians have been forced to leave their homes because of the Israeli bombing of the region over the past seven days.

“I renew my appeal for the liberation of the hostages,” the pope said. According to Israeli authorities, there are 126 hostages, including men, women and children, including Israeli soldiers, who were captured by Hamas on Oct. 7 and taken to Gaza. Most of the hostages are Israelis, but there are also hostages from other countries, including the United States and Argentina, the pope’s homeland.

Pope Francis made a forceful appeal, especially for “the children, the sick, the elderly, the women and all the civilians,” that they be not made “victims of the conflict.” In this context, he called for the “respect” of “humanitarian rights…above all in Gaza where it is urgent and necessary to guarantee humanitarian corridors and help the entire population.”

Pope Francis referred to what is required of all sides in war by international law and the Geneva Convention, rights that the United Nations now say are being violated by Israel in Gaza, as residential buildings, ambulances and refugee camps have been hit by the bombing, and Israel has prevented electricity, gas, food, water and medical supplies from entering the 141-square-mile Gaza enclave where 2.3 million Palestinians live.

Israel has ordered 1.1 million Gaza residents to move from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip within 24 hours, and while tens of thousands have complied with the order, the vast majority did not. Some of those who died were killed by airstrikes on “the safe roads” designated by Israel.

The pope told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square: “Brothers and sisters, already very many have died. Please let no more innocent blood be spilled, neither in the Holy Land or Ukraine or in any other place.”

He was referring to the carnage that already has taken place in just one week, starting with the massacre of more than 1,300 Israelis in the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. Since then, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, more than 2,200 Palestinians, including over 700 children, have been killed by the more than 6,000 bombs that Israel said it has launched into Gaza. Francis called for an end to this killing saying: “Enough! Wars are always a defeat. Always!”

He advocated instead for “prayer and the force of meekness” as the ways to combat “the diabolic force of hate, terrorism and war.” He concluded by inviting “all believers to join with the churches of the Holy Land next Tuesday, Oct. 17, in prayer and fasting [for peace and reconciliation].” Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, has issued the call for prayer on behalf of the churches in the Holy Land.

Pope Francis ended his appeal by inviting everyone to join him in praying the Hail Mary to Our Lady for peace in the Holy Land.

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