As war between Israel and Hamas rages, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, has offered himself in exchange for Israeli children taken hostage by Hamas as Christians around the world have been called to pray and fast for peace in the Holy Land.
In a statement on 13 October, the patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem urged ‘the people of our congregations and all those of goodwill around the world to observe a Day of Prayer and Fasting’ on 17 October.
The efforts are ‘in support of all those who have suffered in this war and of the families reeling from the violence,’ said the statement.
To date, some 1,400 in Israel and more than 2,700 in Gaza have been killed in the conflict. Israel placed Gaza under siege, warning some 1.1 million in Gaza to move south within the enclave ahead of an expected ground offensive by Israeli forces. So far, half a million in Gaza have heeded the evacuation order, according to the Israel Defense Forces, as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the Middle East is ‘on the verge of the abyss’.
‘There is yet time to stop the hatred,’ said the Jerusalem patriarchs and heads of churches in their statement.
Cardinal Pizzaballa particularly urged ‘prayer times with Eucharistic adoration and with the recitation of the rosary to Our Blessed Virgin Mary.’
‘This is the way we all come together despite everything, and unite collectively in prayer, to deliver to God the Father our thirst for peace, justice and reconciliation,’ he said in a letter on 11 October.
The Catholic Church’s highest ranking prelate in the Holy Land has also offered his ‘absolute availability’ to be exchanged for Israeli children taken hostage by Hamas.
Cardinal Pizzaballa told reporters during an online meeting on 16 October that he is willing to do ‘anything’ to ‘bring to freedom and bring home the children’ taken into Gaza during Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October. The Israeli military said on 16 October that some 200 people, including children and elderly persons, are being held hostage.
Returning the hostages held in Gaza is ‘absolutely necessary’ to stopping the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas, the cardinal said. He expressed the Vatican’s willingness to assist in de-escalation and mediation efforts but said they had not been able to speak with Hamas.
Cardinal Pizzaballa said some 1,000 Christians in Gaza are currently sheltering in Church-affiliated buildings because ‘they don’t know where to go and moving is dangerous.’
While Christians concentrated in northern Gaza were told to leave the area by the Israeli military, ‘practically all have chosen to stay there because it is safer for them to stay, since the situation is even more delicate elsewhere.’ The cardinal said none of the Christians sheltering in Gaza have been killed, though some have suffered light wounds.
‘Moving is dangerous because many die in transfers,’ and ‘possible places of refuge are already overflowing; there is no place to go,’ he said.
The cardinal said that some 500 Christians are sheltering at a Latin-rite church, some 400 are in a Greek Orthodox church and approximately 300 are at a YMCA. ‘Supplies are beginning to run short,’ he said. ‘We try, through our contacts, to make as many physical supplies as possible reach [them], provisions such as medicine, water, even generators.’
Cardinal Pizzaballa said the Catholic Church, in coordination with humanitarian agencies, is ‘trying to insist’ that a humanitarian corridor can be opened into Gaza to allow basic necessities to be brought in.
After praying the Angelus on 15 October, Pope Francis publicly called for humanitarian law to be respected ‘especially in Gaza, where it is urgent and necessary to ensure humanitarian corridors and to come to the aid of the entire population’.
Banner image: Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, poses for a photo while speaking to reporters at the Vatican on 28 September. (Photo by Carol Glatz for CNS.)