This week was tinged with mourning at the Vatican. The Hamas attack in Israel, which killed more than 1,200 people and wounded more than 3,000, and Israel’s ongoing retaliation in the Gaza Strip, are at the heart of the concerns of Pope Francis and the synod fathers and mothers gathered in Rome.
The Holy Land’s new cardinal, back in Jerusalem
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, had come to Rome for his cardinalate on September 30 and for the opening of the Synod on October 4. Now, he had to make an emergency return to his flock as the conflict in the Holy Land was cruelly set ablaze by large-scale bombardments.
“I only managed to get back [on Monday] with the help of the civil and military authorities, both Israeli and Jordanian, because I entered through Jordan,” the cardinal explained to Vatican News. The Latin patriarch, who has just been created a cardinal, found “a frightened country” and “so much anger and so much expectation to receive a word of guidance, of comfort, and also of clarity about what is happening.”
Cardinal Pizzaballa has recently warned on several occasions of the fire smoldering beneath the embers, referring to the worrisome situation of the Palestinians. He told Vatican News that he was saddened to have been “an easy prophet.”
“The escalation of the clash was there for all to see. But an explosion of such violence, scale and brutality no one had foreseen,” he said.
Pope Francis’ appeal
On Sunday, the day after the Hamas raid on Israeli territory, which was triggered at the height of the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah, Pope Francis launched an appeal from the window of the Apostolic Palace during the Angelus he was presiding over in St Peter’s Square. “Terrorism and war do not lead to any resolutions,” warned the head of the Catholic Church, expressing his sorrow for these events. “May the attacks and weaponry cease, please!” the Bishop of Rome said, imploring “peace in Israel and in Palestine.”
Synod members pray for peace
The Synod members echoed this prayer, dedicating their Thursday morning prayer to world peace. Presided over by Iraqi Cardinal Raphaël Sako, the Synod fathers and mothers made special mention of the Holy Land, Lebanon, Ukraine and Iraq. This common concern was echoed in several of the interventions throughout the days.
Renewed pleas from Pope Francis
As the bombardments continue, the Pope launched a new appeal at Wednesday’s general audience. Profoundly affected by this open war, he called for the release of the hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself, he nevertheless said he was “very concerned about the total siege” imposed on the Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million Palestinians. “The Middle East needs not war, but peace, a peace built on dialogue and the courage of fraternity,” the 266th Pope insisted.
The Argentine pontiff also telephoned the parish priest of Gaza, Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, twice, to express his “closeness and prayers” and to find out “how the people are doing.”
The Gaza parish is currently hosting 150 people who have lost their homes or are seeking shelter from the bombardments.
Despite urgent appeals from the Vatican, including speeches from Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Pizzaballa expressed his fears “that this will be a very long war.”
“It’s likely that the Israeli response will not be limited to bombing, but that there will be a ground operation,” he warned, expecting “a new phase in the life of this country and in relations between Israel and Palestine.”
“If we can speak of relations,” he added.