ROME – Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, has penned a lengthy letter to his diocese condemning both the Hamas surprise attack earlier this month as well as Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign of Gaza.
As he has in the past, Pizzaballa said peace requires granting Palestine a clear national standing and urged both sides to cease hostilities. He also offered a lengthy spiritual reflection on passages of the Gospel, telling faithful to have the courage to let feelings of anger, hatred and resentment be replaced by prayer, forgiveness and a desire for peace.
Pizzaballa, who got his red hat from Pope Francis on Sept. 30, as patriarch of Jerusalem oversees the territories of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. He was still in Rome when the most recent conflict broke out but has since managed to return. Festivities honoring his elevation as cardinal have been cancelled due to the current war.
In his Oct. 24 letter, Pizzaballa noted that for the past two weeks, inhabitants of the Holy Land “have been inundated with images of horrors, which have reawakened ancient traumas, opened new wounds, and made pain, frustration and anger explode within all of us.”
“Much seems to speak of death and endless hatred. So many ‘whys’ overlap in our minds, adding to our sense of bewilderment,” he said, and urged faithful to participate in the upcoming Oct. 27 day of prayer, fasting and penance for peace called for by Pope Francis.
Prayer “is perhaps the main thing we Christians can do at this time,” he said, and offered a reflection on this past Sunday’s Gospel reading, “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
In terms of rendering unto Caesar, Pizzaballa said, “My conscience and moral duty require me to state clearly that what happened on October 7th in southern Israel is in no way permissible and we cannot but condemn it.”
He was referring to a massive offensive by Hamas militants that left some 1,400 Israelis dead with others taken to Gaza as hostages, including children and elderly.
“There is no reason for such an atrocity,” Pizzaballa said, saying the use of violence is incompatible with the Gospel “it does not lead to peace.”
On the other hand, he said his conscience also “with a great burden on my heart” recognizes that “this new cycle of violence” has led to the deaths of over 5,000 people in Gaza, many of whom are women and children, while tens of thousands have been displaced, neighborhoods have been “razed to the ground,” two million people now lack food, water, medicine and other basic necessities.
“These are tragedies that cannot be understood, and which we have a duty to denounce and condemn unreservedly,” Pizzaballa said, saying, “The continuous heavy bombardment that has been pounding Gaza for days will only cause more death and destruction and will only increase hatred and resentment.”
This ongoing offensive, he said, “will not solve any problem, but rather create new ones. It is time to stop this war, this senseless violence.”
in terms of political solutions, Pizzaballa again argued for a two-state solution, saying the only way to stop hostilities is through “ending decades of occupation and its tragic consequences, as well as giving a clear and secure national perspective to the Palestinian people that a serious peace process can begin.”
“Unless this problem is solved at its root, there will never be the stability we all hope for,” he said, saying the current situation requires the civil, political and ecclesial communities to make a stronger commitment to implementing this solution in order to avoid further tragedies.
“We owe it to the many victims of these days and to those of years past. We do not have the right to leave this task to others,” he said.
Pizzaballa then reflected on Jesus’s passion and death, noting that his victory on the cross was not achieved with weapons, political power, or by imposing himself or seeking victory over others, but rather, “He won the world by loving it.”
“God’s answer to the question of why the righteous suffer, is not an explanation, but a presence. It is Christ on the cross,” he said.
Pointing to Jesus’s emphasis on courage, Pizzaballa said that having the courage “of love and peace here, today, means not allowing hatred, revenge, anger and pain to occupy all the space of our hearts, of our speech, of our thinking.”
Courage, he said, is needed in order to “demand justice without spreading hatred.”
Pizzaballa said it also takes courage “to ask for mercy, to reject oppression, to promote equality without demanding uniformity, while remaining free. It takes courage today, even in our diocese and our communities, to maintain unity, to feel united to one another, even in the diversity of our opinions, sensitivities and visions.”
Pizzaballa prayed for the 18 people who died in an Israeli strike on St. Porphyrios Church in Gaza, including a Caritas Jerusalem aid worker and her family, as well as the families of the victims.
“Their pain is great, and yet with every passing day, I realize that they are at peace. They are scared, shaken, upset, but with peace in their hearts. We are all with them, in prayer and concrete solidarity, thanking them for their beautiful witness,” he said.
He also prayed for all other innocent people who have died in the current cycle of violence, saying the suffering of the innocent holds “a precious and redemptive value because it is united with the redemptive suffering of Christ,” and praying that their suffering brings peace closer.
Pizzaballa closed his letter noting that the feast of the Queen of Palestine, patroness of his diocese, is celebrated on Oct. 25, and that the shrine dedicated to her honor was established during a time of war as a special place to pray for peace.
“In these days we will once again reconsecrate our Church and our land to the Queen of Palestine,” he said, and asked all churches around the world “to join us in prayer, and in the search for justice and peace.”
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