The morning after Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel, Pope Francis pleaded with nations to avoid a further escalation of the violence.

‘I make a heartfelt appeal for a halt to any action that might fuel a spiral of violence with the risk of dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict,’ the Pope said on 14 April after reciting the ‘Regina Coeli’ prayer with visitors in St Peter’s Square.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Iran launched 330 exploding drones and missiles at Israeli military facilities late on 13 April and early on 14 April. The vast majority of the weapons were intercepted. The only serious injury reported by Israeli media involved a seven-year-old girl from a Bedouin community who was rushed to the hospital with a head injury after being hit by shrapnel.

Pope Francis told thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square, ‘I am following in prayer and with concern, also sorrow, the news that has come in the last few hours about the worsening of the situation in Israel because of the intervention by Iran.’

‘No one should threaten the existence of others,’ the Pope said. ‘Instead, all nations should take the side of peace, and help the Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side, in security.’

Israelis and Palestinians have a ‘deep and legitimate desire’ to live peacefully and independently, he said, ‘and it is their right! Two neighbouring states.’

No more war, no more attacks, no more violence! Yes to dialogue and yes to peace!

Once again Pope Francis urged Israel and Hamas to stop the fighting in Gaza ‘and let the paths of negotiation be pursued with determination’.

‘Let that population, plunged into a humanitarian catastrophe, be helped; let the hostages kidnapped months ago be freed at once,’ he said, referring to the hundreds of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas in October.

‘So much suffering,’ he said. ‘Let us pray for peace. No more war, no more attacks, no more violence! Yes to dialogue and yes to peace!’

Later in his remarks, addressing children and inviting them to participate in the first celebration of World Children’s Day at the Vatican in May, Pope Francis said everyone needs young people’s joy and their hopes ‘for a better world, a world at peace’.

‘Brothers and sisters, let’s pray for the children who are suffering because of wars—there are so many—in Ukraine, in Palestine, in Israel, in other parts of the world, in Myanmar,’ he said. ‘Let’s pray for them and for peace.’

The light of life, which shines all around us and embraces us from on high, calls us to leave behind the dark night of hatred.

A day before Iran launched the missiles and exploding drones at Israel, Pope Francis had sent a message to viewers of Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya Network pleading for peace throughout the Middle East

‘The light of life, which shines all around us and embraces us from on high, calls us to leave behind the dark night of hatred, so that, in accordance with the Creator’s will, stars may shine brightly upon our world, rather than the glare of missiles lighting up the heavens and raining down fire to devastate the earth,’ the Pope wrote in the message released the evening of 12 April.

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An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, on 14 April. (Photo: OSV News/Amir Cohen, Reuters.)

Pope Francis urged the people of the Middle East to think of the children.

‘Let us all look to the future with the eyes of children,’ he said. ‘They do not ask who is the enemy to be destroyed, but who are the friends with whom they can play. They need homes, parks and schools, not tombs and mass graves.’

Pope Francis said the recent celebrations of Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan and of Easter call believers to ‘lift our eyes to heaven and to worship the Lord, “merciful and almighty”’, an attitude that ‘stands in sharp contrast with the sorrow we feel for the blood presently being shed in the blessed lands of the Middle East’

‘God is peace and he desires peace,’ the Pope said.

Believers in God must oppose war, which does not resolve problems but only increases hostility, he said. ‘It does not open new vistas but stifles all hope.’

Peace is possible, he said, but people must set aside their hatred and prejudices and instead respect the beliefs of others, recognising their right to exist and to live in security, and that includes the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own nations.

Let us not allow war to spread! Let us put an end to the inertia of evil!

Pope Francis again called for ‘an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, where a humanitarian catastrophe is ongoing. May aid be allowed to reach the Palestinian people who are suffering greatly.’ He also repeated his call for Hamas to release the hostages kidnapped in Israel in October.

But he said he also was worried about Syria, Lebanon and the entire Middle East.

‘Let us not allow the flames of resentment to spread, fanned by the baleful winds of the arms race,’ he said. ‘Let us not allow war to spread! Let us put an end to the inertia of evil!’

Banner image: Pope Francis gives his blessing to people gathered in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 14 April for his midday recitation of the ‘Regina Coeli’ prayer. The Pope pleaded with nations to exercise restraint and avoid an escalation of violence in the Middle East. (Photo: CNS/Vatican Media.)