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Israeli and Palestinian Diplomats Applaud Pope’s Call for Peaceful Prayer

From left to right, Abdallah Redouane, secretary general of the Islamic Center for Cultural Studies in Italy; Pope Francis; Rabbi Alberto Funaro; Palestinian Ambassador to the Holy See Issa Kassissieh and Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz participate in a June 7, 2014, prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens, held in front of an olive tree planted by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2014. (Photo: Vatican Media)

By Elise Ann Allen

ROME – Israeli and Palestinian envoys to the Holy See have applauded Pope Francis’s prayer for peace in the Vatican gardens Friday, commemorating a similar event held 10 years ago, with both calling the initiative symbolic and illustrative of the pope’s commitment to ending the Gaza war.

Speaking to Crux, Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz said the June 7 prayer was “a nice gesture showing the pope’s and the Holy See’s commitment to peace in our region, especially during these difficult times.”

Similarly, Ambassador of Palestine to the Holy See Issa Kassissieh quoted Pope Francis’s 2014 prayer for peace in the Middle East, telling Crux that on more than one occasion, “We have been on the verge of peace, but the evil one, employing a variety of means, has succeeded in blocking it.”

“I would add then that all evils came out of the box to spread hatred and destruction. Gaza is a witness to this evil,” he said, saying, “Pope Francis wants to remind us that the Holy Land, worn out by conflicts, is yearning justice and genuine peace, where the two States, Palestine and Israel, live side by side peacefully.”

Schutz and Kassissieh both participated in a special June 7 prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens, attended by top Vatican officials, some 23 cardinals, and other members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.

Rabbi Alberto Funaro and Abdallah Redouane, secretary general of the Islamic Center for Cultural Studies in Italy, were also present, representing the Jewish and Muslim communities in Rome.

The event was held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of an historic prayer for peace held in the same location of the Vatican Gardens in 2014, which was led by Pope Francis and attended by the late President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, and the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

On that occasion, Peres and Abbas jointly planted an olive tree in a symbolic gesture of peace. Friday’s prayer event took place beside that same olive tree.

The event held special significance given the ongoing war in Gaza, which erupted last year following an Oct. 7 surprise attack by Hamas militants on Israel in which they killed some 1,200 people and abducted 251 others.

In November, 105 of the hostages were released during a week-long truce, however, around 120 remain unaccounted for, with Israeli officials stating that many are presumed dead. Israeli military in recent days confirmed the deaths of four of the remaining hostages, saying the men, most of whom were elderly, were killed together during an Israeli operation in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

In response to the attack, Israel launched a massive ground and air offensive in Gaza that has left an estimated 36,470 people dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, in an effort to oust Hamas from power.

Pope Francis Friday voiced gratitude for the 2014 prayer for peace, saying that 10 years later, “it is important to remember that event, especially in light of what has unfortunately unfolded in Israel and Palestine.”

“Instead of deceiving ourselves that war can resolve problems and bring about peace, we need to be vigilant and critical towards an ideology that is unfortunately dominant today, which claims that conflict, violence and breakdown are part of the normal functioning of a society,” he said.

What is truly at stake, the pope said, are “power struggles” between various social groups, as well as partisan economic interests and “international political maneuverings aimed at an apparent peace yet fleeing from real problems.”

Francis said he prays daily that the war in Gaza will end, and that he prays for all communities in the region, including Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

He called for a ceasefire, for the release of Israeli hostages “as soon as possible,” and asked that access to humanitarian aid be guaranteed in Gaza. He also prayed that the homes of those who have been displaced will soon be rebuilt so they can return “in peace.”

Repeating his call for two-state solution to the longstanding conflict, Pope Francis said, “All of us must work and commit ourselves to achieving a lasting peace, where the State of Palestine and the State of Israel can live side by side, breaking down the walls of enmity and hatred.”

“We must all cherish Jerusalem so that it will become the city of fraternal encounter among Christians, Jews and Muslims, protected by a special internationally guaranteed status,” he said.

Peace, the pope said, is primarily about conversion, and as such, “is not made only by written agreements or by human and political compromises.”

Rather, peace, he said, “is born from transformed hearts, and arises when each of us has encountered and been touched by God’s love, which dissolves our selfishness, shatters our prejudices and grants us the taste and joy of friendship, fraternity and mutual solidarity.”

“Let us ask the Lord that the leaders of nations and the parties in conflict may find the way to peace and unity. May we all recognize each other as brothers and sisters,” he said.

Francis repeated the prayer for peace offered with Peres, Abbas and Bartholomew in 2014, saying, “We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms.”

“How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried…Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace.”

He asked that God would grant those in authority the courage to stop war and “to take concrete steps to achieve peace.”

“Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words ‘division,’ ‘hatred’ and ‘war’ be banished from the heart of every man and woman,” he said.

In his comments to Crux, Kassissieh said Friday’s prayer for peace, held in the same location as the 2014 event, illustrates the pope’s determination “to defeat evil and war, and remind those who continue to advocate the war, that the path of peacemaking calls for courage, strength and will, much more so than warfare.”

Kassissieh voiced hope that the “echo” of the prayer for peace would be heard “clearly and loudly in the halls of the White House as well in the European capitals, and the whole world.”

“The peace prayer is a glimpse of hope to our people, at a time when our children wake up and go to sleep under the tents with the noise of bombs and bullets,” he said, urging the pope “to continue to pray and work for peace in the Holy Land.”