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Catholic Leaders Urge Biden to Push for Cease-Fire in Gaza

Palestinians inspect destroyed residential buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip April 7, 2024, after the Israeli military withdrew most of its ground troops from the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo: OSV News/Ahmed Zakot, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — More than 200 Catholic leaders signed a letter sent to President Joe Biden May 2 urging for a cease-fire in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages, and an end to shipments of weapons to Israel.

“We, Catholics in the United States, express our grief and dismay over the horrors that have occurred in Israel-Palestine over the last six months,” the letter says at the start, adding that the inherent dignity of all people gives the signers, including many women religious, priests, lay leaders, an archbishop, and a cardinal, “hope for a solution.”

The letter called on “President Biden, a fellow Catholic, and other U.S. and international leaders, to do everything possible to ensure a permanent end to hostilities” in the region. It reiterated similar calls for a cease-fire from Pope Francis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Jesuits.

“As U.S. Catholics, we recognize our country’s contribution to the present violence and to the ongoing systemic injustices in Israel-Palestine,” the letter said, emphasizing the need to stop the  additional shipments of U.S.-funded offensive weapons to Israel, ensure the return of all hostages, and provide immediate and robust humanitarian aid to Gaza.

It pointed out that at the time of the letter’s release, more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been “killed by Israel’s military assault marked by indiscriminate bombing” and that “tens of thousands more are severely injured without access to adequate medical care; half of Gazans are facing famine; and most have been displaced from their homes, 70% of which have been destroyed.”

The signers said they mourn each life lost in the region, and they called for the release of the hostages still held by Hamas in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,200 Israelis.

The letter, organized in part by the Catholic Advisory Council of Churches for Middle East Peace, also acknowledged that American Catholics “have not paid enough attention to the situation in Israel-Palestine” due to “an unspoken feeling that Israel-Palestine is not really our problem — that it is a Jewish-Muslim issue.”

“This attitude was a mistake,” the letter said, adding: “We cannot forget that Christians, most of whom are Palestinian, are an integral part of the Holy Land. Palestinian Christians have long pleaded that Christians around the world listen to their experiences and support their struggle for full equality and rights.”

The letter concluded with prayers for the region and called for a political solution that “ensures justice, equality, peace, security, and freedom for Palestinians and Israelis.”

The letter’s signers included Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego; Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico; dozens of women religious; several priests; and academic leaders.

Organizations that signed included Ignatian Solidarity Network, Pax Christi USA, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests ,and the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy.

During a May 3 ecumenical prayer service in front of the White House, the Catholic letter to the president was scheduled to be read aloud. 

The event is sponsored by the group Christians for Ceasefire, which emphasizes that the current conflict “must shift to diplomacy, accountability mechanisms, and urgent humanitarian relief.”