by Elise Ann Allen
ROME (Crux) — Amid international tensions surrounding the war in Gaza following the deadly bombing of a hospital, Pope Francis has called for another day of prayer and fasting for peace, saying war “cancels the future” and breeds hatred and revenge.
Speaking to faithful attending his Oct. 18 general audience, Pope Francis said to the sound of applause that he was thinking of Palestine and Israel.
“The victims are growing, and the situation in Gaza is desperate. Please, let everything possible be done to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said, noting that various wars are raging throughout the world and appealing to both sides to “cast weapons aside, listen to the voice of the poor, the people, children.
“Brothers and sisters, war does not resolve any problem. It only sows death and destruction. It increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War cancels the future, it cancels the future,” he said, and urged believers “to take only one part in this conflict, that of peace. Not of words, but prayer and total dedication.”
To this end, he announced Oct. 27 as a day of prayer and fasting for peace, and invited believers of various Christian confessions and those belonging to other religious traditions to join, as well as all those “who carry in their heart the cause of peace in the world.”
He announced that on the evening of Oct. 27, at 6 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica, an hour of prayer would be held “in the spirit of penance” to implore God for “peace in our days, peace in this world,” Pope Francis said, asking churches everywhere to participate by organizing similar initiatives.
Gaza has been at the heart of a war between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas following an unexpected and deadly surprise attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 that left some 1,300 Israelis dead, including children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately declared war and has since launched an air offensive, calling on northern Gaza to be evacuated as fighting escalates and concerns rise over the safety of civilians.
On Tuesday, Oct. 17, a massive blast shook Gaza City’s Al-Ahli Hospital, which had been packed with wounded and other civilians seeking shelter, killing at least 500 people, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
Hamas blamed an Israeli strike for the blast, while Israel’s military said a rocket misfired by other Palestinian militants was to blame.
The strike sparked international outcry as videos and images circulated showing fire engulf the building as bodies, many of them young children, were strewn across hospital grounds, with blankets, school backpacks, and other personal belongings scattered in the grass around the facility.
Tuesday’s carnage happened as concerns rapidly rise of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, with many struggling to find bread and water as the United States and other countries attempt to convince Israel to allow the delivery of much-needed supplies to Gaza’s civilian population.
U.S. President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit the Mideast in a bid to stop the war from spreading, but in the wake of Tuesday’s strike on the Al-Ahli Hospital, Jordan’s foreign minister canceled a regional summit in Amman, where Biden was expected to meet with Jordanian King Abdullah II, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Biden will visit just Israel as regional leaders warn of further escalations.
In an Oct. 16 video message to youth in the Holy Land ahead of an Oct. 17 day of prayer and fasting for peace called for by Pope Francis, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who just got his red hat from the pope on Sept. 30, said he spoke to them “with a heavy heart.”
“We are living very difficult and terrible days of violence, hatred, and war. In this moment, we need to be united in prayer first of all,” he said, saying closeness to Jesus is the most important thing during difficult times.
While prayer in itself “is not going to change this terrible situation,” it can give “light to our heart and to our eyes (in) how to see this situation not with hatred, but as human beings and Christians, to look at this with a heart where there’s still, despite all, space for hope.
“My prayer is that we can unite, all of us, in this day of prayer in order to be always united as Christians and in order to work together for the good of our community, the good of our beloved Holy Land,” he said.
In the wake of Tuesday’s hospital blast, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem announced that their administrative offices in Jerusalem would be closed Oct. 18 “to mourn the lives of innocents who senselessly lost their lives in Gaza in general and in particular at the Ahli Hospital,” which is owned and operated by the Anglican Communion.