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Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, April 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)  

(RNS) — More than 200 Catholic leaders, including a cardinal, an archbishop and numerous nuns, have put their names on a letter urging President Joe Biden to push for a cease-fire in Gaza, secure the release of Israeli hostages and halt the shipment of weapons to Israel.

“We call on President Biden, a fellow Catholic, and other U.S. and international leaders, to do everything possible to ensure a permanent end to hostilities, including halting additional shipments of U.S.-funded offensive weapons to Israel, a return of all hostages, and the immediate distribution of robust humanitarian aid to Gaza,” the letter, released on Thursday (May 2), reads in part.

The letter cites Pope Francis’ repeated calls for a cease-fire in the region, as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Society of Jesus. “As U.S. Catholics, we recognize our country’s contribution to the present violence and to the ongoing systemic injustices in Israel-Palestine,” the letter reads.

Organized in part by the Catholic Advisory Council of Churches for Middle East Peace, the letter calls for the release of the roughly 200 hostages still held by Hamas in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that left 1,200 dead, noting that children and the elderly are among those being held. It goes on to criticize the subsequent assault on the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces that has killed as many as 34,000 people and left hundreds of thousands facing famine, and urged the “release of all Palestinian political prisoners held unjustly by Israel.”

The plight of Palestinian Christians is also a focus of the letter, arguing that many people in the U.S. “misperceive the Israel-Palestine situation as a conflict of equally matched sides” when “in reality … there is a great power imbalance.”

Many of the signers have visited the Holy Land and have seen “some of these realities firsthand,” the letter notes, before accusing Israel of “denying many basic rights to stateless Palestinians and governing much of their lives through military occupation and illegal settlements (in the West Bank and East Jerusalem), blockade (in Gaza), and other measures of control.”

It adds: “We pray that in the land of Israel-Palestine, where seven million Jewish Israelis and seven million Palestinians live, a political solution can be achieved which ensures justice, equality, peace, security, and freedom for two peoples.

Among the signatories are Cardinal Robert McElroy, the bishop of San Diego; Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico; Sister Simone Campbell, former leader of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby; Sisters Michelle Gorman and Ginger Andrews, who serve in leadership in the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; the Revs. Tim Taugher and Michael J. Bausch, who serve in leadership roles at the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests; and professors from major Catholic universities such as Georgetown, Fordham and Notre Dame.

Organizations also signed the letter, including the Archdiocese of Santa Fe; the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests; Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy; Ignatian Solidarity Network; and Pax Christi USA.

In November, several Catholic organizations — some of which signed on to Thursday’s letter — hosted a ”pray-in” vigil outside the White House, with participants arguing that “President Biden and Pope Francis are not on the same page” regarding the Israel-Hamas war. Later that month, a delegation of Palestinian Christians visited Washington carrying a letter signed by Bethlehem’s major Christian communities — including Catholics — urging the president to push for a permanent cease-fire.

In January, McElroy and Wester released a joint statement calling for a cease-fire in the region, and more recently, a Guatemalan Catholic cardinal was among 140 global Christian leaders who signed a letter addressed to Biden calling for a cease-fire and for an end to foreign military support for Israel. Francis, for his part, included a call for peace in Gaza in his Easter message.

This story originally incorrectly referred to San Diego as an archdiocese.

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Ultimately, it is up to each of us to prayerfully discern the individual contribution we can make. Guided by our faith and Catholic social teaching, we can do our part to support a just peace in Israel-Palestine.