On Saturday, October 7, 2023, “many Israeli brothers and sisters were awakened by a terrible and despicable attack,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, on October 9, 2023, regarding the new conflict that has erupted in the Holy Land. Cardinal Parolin was opening a conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on the new documents found in the Vatican archives on the pontificate of Pius XII, especially concerning the Holocaust, and their impact on Jewish-Christian relations.
“I would have never thought to begin, today, my speech with the dutiful, sad obligation to share and convey the sorrow that the Holy Father expressed yesterday at what is happening in Israel,” Cardinal Parolin said, referring to Pope Francis’ appeal to end the violence during the Angelus on Sunday, October 8.
“The Holy See is following with deep and grave concern the war that has been provoked, in which also many Palestinians in Gaza are losing their lives and many are displaced and wounded,” said the Secretary of State.
Cardinal Parolin emphasized that “war is always the defeat of dignity” and deplored the death of “totally innocent” civilians.
“Unfortunately, terrorism, violence, barbarism and extremism undermine the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis,” the Cardinal continued. The conflict erupted after the Palestinian militant group Hamas, recognized as a terrorist group by several countries, killed and took hostage many Israeli civilians on October 7, prompting a military response from Israel.
On Wednesday, at the end of the general audience, as the war entered its fifth day, the Pope spoke out again, calling for peace, and lamenting both terrorism and extremism.
Present at the same conference as Cardinal Parolin on October 9, Chief Rabbi of Rome Riccardo Di Segni said that this was a “very sad day.”
“There’s a great deal of concern about what’s happening,” he said. Due to the conflict, two researchers from Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem center, dedicated to remembering the Holocaust, had to cancel their participation to the three-day seminar in Rome.
The Holy See has supported finding a two-state solution
The Holy See has long and regularly spoken out in favor of a two-state solution for the conflict in the Holy Land. When Pope Francis met with the Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas in November 2021 “it was stressed that it is absolutely necessary to reactivate direct dialogue in order to achieve a two-state solution,” the Holy See statement on the meeting said.
In September 2023, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, condemned “the increasingly heavy-handed and militarily invasive attitude of the State of Israel” in a speech to the United Nations.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and other Christian leaders condemn the conflict
“The operation launched from Gaza and the reaction of the Israeli Army are bringing us back to the worst periods of our recent history,” said Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the newly created Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, in a statement on October 7. He called on the international community and religious leaders across the world to help decrease tensions. “The too many causalities and tragedies, which both Palestinians and Israeli families have to deal with, will create more hatred and division, and will more and more destroy any perspective of stability.”
The same day, Cardinal Pizzaballa also participated in a second statement with all the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches condemning the conflict. “In these trying times, we come together to raise our voices in unity, echoing the divine message of peace and love for all humanity,” the statement read. “Our faith, which is founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ, compels us to advocate for the cessation of all violent and military activities that bring harm to both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.”
“We unequivocally condemn any acts that target civilians, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or faith,” the statement continued. “We implore political leaders and authorities to engage in sincere dialogue, seeking lasting solutions that promote justice, peace, and reconciliation for the people of this land, who have endured the burdens of conflict for far too long.”
The Israeli Embassy to the Holy See’s response
These statements were not well received by the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See, which called for avoiding “linguistic ambiguity” as soon as the conflict began. “Israel’s response under this [sic] circumstances cannot be described as anything but it’s [sic] right to self defence,” the Embassy claimed in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on October 7.