LEICESTER, United Kingdom – English Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster says he is “heartbroken” over the attack on a Catholic compound in Gaza by the Israeli military.
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said Saturday that an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sniper killed two women, later named as Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar, as they walked to a convent of nuns in the compound of Holy Family Parish.
“I have immediately sent a message to His Eminence, expressing my horror at these events and assuring him of the prayers of Catholics in England and Wales,” Nichols said.
“I have twice been warmly welcomed to this parish by its people. They are a remarkable community of faith and genuine service to their neighbors. Together with the dedicated Religious Sisters, they have continued to provide shelter and sustenance to many people during these weeks of warfare. They are a people who yearn for peace,” the English cardinal continued.
“The information provided by [Pizzaballa], gives a picture of seemingly deliberate and callous killing by IDF soldiers of innocent civilians: an elderly woman and her daughter in the grounds of a church. This killing has to stop. It can never be justified,” Nichols said. “I ask all people of faith and goodwill to continue to pray for an end to this conflict by all sides.”
On Oct. 7, forces from Hamas – which currently rules Gaza – entered Israeli territory and killed some 1,200 people and took about 240 others hostage. After the attack, Israel declared war on Hamas and sent forces into Gaza, where at least 18,600 Palestinians have been killed and over 50,000 injured.
A British Member of Parliament, Layla Moran of the Liberal Democrats, said her relatives are among hundreds of civilians trapped in the only Catholic Church in Gaza.
She told the BBC her family are “days away from dying” without access to water or food.
Moran’s grandmother, her son, his wife and their 11-year-old twins are Christian Palestinians who sought refuge inside the church after their home was bombed in the first week of the Israeli-Gaza war.
The BBC says they have been staying on mattresses along with dozens of others in rooms in the Holy Family Church for more than 60 days.
“I’m now no longer sure they are going to survive until Christmas,” Moran told the British news station.
She added a sixth member of the family – a grandfather – died last month after not being able to get to hospital to receive medical treatment.
Moran told the BBC her five remaining members say they no longer have access to food or water, and the last remaining generator has stopped working in the church.
The family also said they heard shots earlier in last week and that two men – a bin collector and a janitor – were killed last Sunday as they were coming and going from the Catholic building.
Meanwhile, the English Catholic aid agency CAFOD is funding some of the work to support families seeking refuge at Gaza’s Catholic compound.
“Having provided refuge many times to those sheltering from Gaza’s violence, whether to Christians or those from other religions, the Holy Family compound is a place of sanctuary and should have been respected as such,” said Neil Thorns, CAFOD’s Director of Advocacy.
“It’s because it’s such a long-standing and well recognized place of worship in the area that [the weekend’s] reports are all the more shocking,” he said.
“If the relentless tide of tragic news coming from the region tells us anything, it’s that no true and lasting peace can be achieved for either side through indiscriminate killing and continued warfare. We urge all those with influence to join their voices with that of Pope Francis in calling for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages,” Thorns said.
During his Sunday Angelus, Francis condemned the attack on the compound of the Catholic parish in Gaza, “where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, and nuns.”
“Some say, ‘This is terrorism. This is war.’ Yes, it is war. It is terrorism,” the pope said. “That is why the Scripture affirms that ‘God stops wars… breaks the bow, splinters the spear’ (Psalm 46:10). Let us pray to the Lord for peace.”
Pope Francis also recalled people in various parts of the world who are suffering due to war.
“May the approach of Christmas strengthen the commitment to open paths of peace,” he said.