“We are going through one of the most difficult and painful periods in our recent times and history. For over two weeks now, we have been inundated with images of horrors, which have reawakened ancient traumas, opened new wounds, and made pain, frustration and anger explode within all of us”, wrote the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, in a letter to the entire diocese dated Tuesday, 24 October. He highlights the sense of bewilderment that the faithful are experiencing at this time. Eighteen days since the start of the war that continues to batter the Holy Land, the Patriarch affirmed that what happened on 7 October in southern Israel “is in no way permissible and we cannot but condemn it”, and “we have a duty to state this and to denounce it. The use of violence is not compatible with the Gospel, and it does not lead to peace”. At the same time, Cardinal Pizzaballa reiterated that “it is only by ending decades of occupation and its tragic consequences, as well as giving a clear and secure national perspective to the Palestinian people that a serious peace process can begin”.
Although the world often considers the Holy Land “a place that is a constant cause of wars and divisions”, wrote the Cardinal, “it was good that a few days ago, the whole world joined us with a day of prayer and fasting for peace. It was a beautiful view of the Holy Land”, he wrote, “and an important moment of unity with our Church. And that view is still there. Next October 27th, the Pope has called for a second day of prayer and fasting, so that our intercession may continue”. He added that “it is perhaps the main thing we Christians can do at this time: pray, do penance, intercede. For this, we thank the Holy Father from the bottom of our hearts”.
The Patriarch then shared a word from the Gospel, to help get through this tragic moment: “Looking to Jesus, of course, does not mean feeling exempt from the duty to speak, to denounce, to call out, as well as to console and encourage”. As the Gospel affirms, “it is necessary to render ‘to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God’ (Matt. 22:21)”. For this reason, it is necessary to firmly condemn what happened on 7 October, because “the life of every human person has equal dignity before God, who created us all in His image”. The Cardinal continued, “The same conscience, however, with a great burden on my heart, leads me to state with equal clarity today that this new cycle of violence has brought to Gaza over five thousand deaths, including many women and children, tens of thousands of wounded, neighborhoods razed to the ground, lack of medicine, lack of water and of basic necessities for over two million people. These are tragedies that cannot be understood and which we have a duty to denounce and condemn unreservedly”, he added. “The continuous heavy bombardment that has been pounding Gaza for days will only cause more death and destruction and will only increase hatred and resentment. It will not solve any problem, but rather create new ones. It is time to stop this war, this senseless violence”.
The Patriarch then launched an appeal: “The tragedy of these days must lead us all, religious, political, civil society, international community, to a more serious commitment in this regard than what has been done so far”, which he explained requires looking upward, to Christ.
“‘I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have tribulations, but take courage, I have conquered the world’” (Jn. 16:33), Jesus said on the eve of his Passion, knowing that his disciples would “panic, scatter and flee”. For Cardinal Pizzaballa, this passage “is an encouragement. He does not say that He shall win, but that He has already won. Even in the turmoil to come, the disciples will be able to have peace”, a peace that comes from “having the assurance that precisely within all this evil, Jesus has already won”.
The Cardinal explained that “it was on the cross that Jesus won: not with weapons, not with political power, not by great means, nor by imposing himself. The peace He speaks of has nothing to do with victory over others. He won the world by loving it”. On the cross, in fact, “a new reality and a new order begin”, those “of the one who gives his life out of love”. The “answer to the question of why the righteous suffer, is not an explanation”, notes the Patriarch, “but a Presence. It is Christ on the cross”.
“It is on this that we stake our faith today”, he observes, noting that “such peace, such love, require great courage. To have the courage of love and peace here, today, means not allowing hatred, revenge, anger and pain to occupy all the space of our hearts, of our speech, of our thinking. It means making a personal commitment to justice, being able to affirm and denounce the painful truth of injustice and evil that surrounds us, without letting it pollute our relationships. It means being committed, being convinced that it is still worthwhile to do all we can for peace, justice, equality and reconciliation” . The courage “to be able to demand justice without spreading hatred” and “to maintain unity” within the diocese “even in the diversity of our opinions”.
“We want to ask God for that courage”, he concluded. “We want to be victorious over the world, taking upon ourselves that same Cross, which is also ours, made of pain and love, of truth and fear, of injustice and gift, of cries and forgiveness”.
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa then assured of his prayers “for the small community of Gaza” and in particular for “the 18 brothers and sisters who perished recently, and to their families whom we know personally. Their pain is great, and yet with every passing day, I realize that they are at peace. They are scared, shaken, upset, but with peace in their hearts”. The Patriarch of Jerusalem is also praying for all innocent victims: “The suffering of the innocent before God has a precious and redemptive value because it is united with the redemptive suffering of Christ”.
In the light of the approaching Solemnity of the Queen of Palestine, the patroness of the diocese, Cardinal Pizzaballa asked all churches around the world to join together “in prayer and in solidarity for peace, not worldly peace, but the peace which Christ gives us”.