International News

Cardinal Condemns Absence of Religious Voices Pressing for Peace in Gaza

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, patriarch of Jerusalem, speaks at a conference at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome May 2, 2024. (CNS photo/Justin McLellan)

By Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — The prophetic voices of religious leaders working to foster peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land have been largely absent as the war in Gaza rages on, a Jerusalem-based cardinal said.

“With few exceptions, no speeches, reflections, prayers have been heard from religious leadership that are different from any other political or social leader,” Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, patriarch of Jerusalem, said May 2.

When religious leaders discuss the war in Gaza, “one gets the impression that people express themselves exclusively within the perspective of their own community,” he said, whereas the Catholic Church in the Holy Land is “called to be an open road on which fear and suspicion give way to knowledge, encounter and trust, where differences are opportunities for companionship and collaboration and not an excuse for war.”

Speaking at a conference on developing pastoral practices for peace hosted by Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, the cardinal said that while defeat, violence and the rejection of dialogue appear to be the only options to people in the Holy Land, the Christian community “will continue to affirm the way of encounter and mutual respect as the only way out capable of leading to peace.”

“Our prophecy will be our daily testimony,” through clear gestures that support peace and denounce violence, he said, without letting religion be reduced to a “political agent.”

Rather than pit people against one another, the cardinal said that “faith naturally has the capacity to open the believer to relationship, because it opens him or her to an encounter with God which then naturally also becomes a look at the other.” He added that the role of the church is to invite people, including non-believers, into such a relationship and encounter.

Cardinal Pizzaballa stressed that the church’s presence in the Holy Land “cannot close itself in a devotional intimacy, limiting itself to making processions” or “only to the service of charity for the poorest.”

“But it is also (about) ‘parrhesia,'” or speaking candidly, he said. “What is required here is a truly difficult discernment that is never achieved once and for all, requiring the ability to listen to all voices, but also to interpret the present critically, and thus prophetically.”

While the church is often asked to take sides in the conflict, he said, its presence in the Holy Land “cannot mean becoming part of a conflict but must always result in words and actions on behalf of those who suffer” and not purely a “condemnation of others.”

Speaking with reporters before the conference, Cardinal Pizzaballa emphasized that it is not the role of the Holy See to get involved in mediating the war in Gaza, but rather to “create the conditions and contexts for (mediation) to be able to occur.”

Similarly, in his speech he said the church in the Holy Land must remain a community of faith “not detached from reality,” but one that is “always available to engage with anyone to build peace, to facilitate the creation of contexts that help build political perspectives while remaining itself, without entering into political dynamics that do not belong to it and which by their nature are often foreign to the logic of the Gospel.”

“The contribution we can make to the social life of our troubled diocese consists in creating in the community the sincere, loyal, positive and concrete desire, willingness and commitment to encounter the other,” he said.