As Israeli forces mount a ground invasion of Gaza following last week’s Hamas attack on thousands of civilians, Christians across the Holy Land called for both sides to “de-escalate this war” and end this “new cycle of violence.”
Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders said the violence following Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 8 that killed 1,300 Israelis should come to an end.
Israel, in retaliation for the terror attack, has spent the past week firing missiles on Gaza in an effort to root out Hamas, killing 2,600 Palestinians.
“We call upon all parties to de-escalate this war in order to save innocent lives while still serving the cause of justice,” read the joint statement issued this past weekend from church leaders.
“Our beloved Holy Land has changed dramatically over the past week,” they added. “We are witnessing a new cycle of violence with an unjustifiable attack against all civilians. Tensions continue to rise and more innocent and vulnerable people are paying the ultimate price as the dramatic level of death and destruction in Gaza clearly show.”
A day of prayer and fasting
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa — who serves as the Latin Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem and one of the three clerics to issue the statement — called for a day of prayer and fasting this Tuesday.
“The pain and dismay at what is happening is great. Once again we find ourselves in the midst of a political and military crisis,” he said. “We have suddenly been catapulted into a sea of unprecedented violence. The hatred, which we have unfortunately already been experiencing for too long, will increase even more, and the ensuing spiral of violence will create more destruction. Everything seems to speak of death.”
Pizzaball added, “Yet, in this time of sorrow and dismay, we do not want to remain helpless. We cannot let death and its sting (1 Cor 15:55) be the only word we hear. That is why we feel the need to pray, to turn our hearts to God the Father. Only in this way we can draw the strength and serenity needed to endure these hard times, by turning to Him, in prayer and intercession, to implore and cry out to God amidst this anguish.”
Pizzaballa, who serves as the head of Latin Catholics living in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Cyprus, said he invited Catholic parishes and religious communities across the world for “a day of fasting and prayer for peace and reconciliation.”
“In this time of sorrow and dismay, we do not want to remain helpless,” he added. “We cannot let death and its sting be the only word we hear. That is why we feel the need to pray, to turn our hearts to God the Father. Only in this way we can draw the strength and serenity needed to endure these hard times, by turning to him, in prayer and intercession, to implore and cry out to God amidst this anguish.”
Meanwhile, Pope Francis, in his weekly Sunday address, called for the release of the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas.
“I continue to follow, with pain and apprehension, what is happening in Israel and Palestine. So many people killed and others wounded,” Pope Francis said, speaking in St. Peter’s Square. “I pray for those families who saw a feast day turn into a day of mourning, and I ask that the hostages be immediately released.”
Some 130 Israelis — many of them children — were taken hostage after the surprise attack.
While the pontiff said Israel has a right to defend itself, he expressed concern about the attacks on Gaza.
“It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but I am very worried by the total siege in which Palestinians live in Gaza, where there have also been many innocent victims,” he said.
Jews and Muslims reflect
This past weekend, Jews in Israel and around the world gathered at synagogues for Shabbat services, where rabbis led prayers of peace and shared grief. In many cities around the world, security around temples remained tight.
In Pittsburgh, where an antisemitic attack that killed 11 people and wounded six took place at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood during Shabbat services on Oct. 27, 2018, Jews gathered to mourn those killed in Israel.
“It isn’t that Hamas wants the destruction of Israel. It’s that Hamas wants the destruction of you and me,” said Rabbi Daniel Fellman during a service at Temple Sinai. “The world deserves better, the Palestinian people deserve better and we need to do better.”
At mosques, many imams called for support to the Palestinians, but bemoaned the loss of life on both sides.
Mohamed Elba, a New York imam, called on Israel to immediately stop bombing Gaza and avoid the further killing of innocent civilians.
“The children of Palestine,” he said, “deserve to live just as any of the children in any part of the world.”
By Clemente Lisi, the executive editor at Religion Unplugged. He is the author of “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event” and previously served as deputy head of news at the New York Daily News and a longtime reporter at The New York Post. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.