25 October 2023, The Tablet

Do not ‘confuse peace with victory’ warns Jerusalem patriarch

Churches and peace groups have voiced growing concern at the Israeli response to the 7 October terror attack.

Do not ‘confuse peace with victory’ warns Jerusalem patriarch

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, demanded “a more serious commitment” to peace in the Holy Land.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales / Mazur

The Patriarch of Jerusalem wrote a letter to his diocese condemning the terrorist “atrocity” on 7 October and the Israeli response in Gaza, where the Hamas-run health ministry says more than 6,500 people have been killed by airstrikes.

Writing ahead of the Solemnity of Our Lady, Queen of Palestine on 25 October, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa appealed to “all churches around the world to join the Holy Father and to join us in prayer, and in the search for justice and peace”.

He said that his “conscience and moral duty” demanded that he condemn the Hamas attack on Israel, which killed more than 1,400 people. “There is no reason for such atrocity,” he said. “Yes, we have a duty to state this and denounce this.”

The patriarch said this “same conscience” compelled him to “state with equal clarity” the plight of Palestinians killed, wounded and displaced in Gaza.

“These are tragedies that cannot be understood and which we have a duty to denounce and condemn unreservedly,” he said.  “It is time to stop this war, this senseless violence.”

Speaking to Vatican News as his letter was published on 24 October, the patriarch said that “the answer to this cannot be to starve two million people” by a humanitarian blockade of Gaza and called for “peace at any cost”.

“One must not confuse peace with victory,” he said,

His letter continued: “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.  Unless this problem is solved at its root, there will never be the stability we all hope for.”

Leaders and communities, he said, must make “a more serious commitment in this regard than what has been done so far” for peace.  “We do not have the right to leave this task to others.”

Citing Christ’s words to the apostles ahead of his Passion in John 16:33, the patriarch said that peace could be “neither a matter of theoretical irenic peace, nor of resignation to the fact that the world is evil”, but itself demands courage.

“To us, God’s answer to the question of why the righteous suffer is not an explanation but a Presence.  It is Christ on the cross.”

He emphasised the need for courage if demands for justice were to avoid “spreading hate”. 

“It takes courage to ask for mercy, to reject oppression, to promote equality without demanding uniformity, while remaining free.”

Speaking after his Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis called for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and for humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza.

This followed his Sunday Angelus address on 22 October, when the Pope said he was “concerned” and “grieved” by the violence in the Holy Land and mourned those killed in the airstrike on the compound of the Greek Orthodox Church of St Porphyrios on 19 October and in an explosion at the Anglican-run Al Ahli Hospital two days earlier.  

That afternoon he held a 20-minute telephone conversation with US President Joe Biden on “situations of conflict in the world and the need to identify paths to peace”.

Earlier in the week, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, called for respect for the laws of armed conflict.

In a response on 20 October to a report by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on strengthening and coordinating UN Rule of Law activities, Archbishop Caccia said the Holy See consistently promoted this principle as “an essential foundation for justice, peace, and human solidarity”.

“Indeed,” he said, “justice is indispensable to the achievement of universal fraternity and to the construction of a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and where the law of the more powerful does not prevail.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby visited the Holy Land last week to support the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem following the hospital explosion, which killed around 500 people. 

He joined the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in a statement condemning the airstrike on St Porphyrios as “the latest instance of innocent civilians being injured or killed as a result of missile strikes against shelters of last resort”.

They urged the international community to guarantee protections for “sanctuaries of refuge” and defied Israeli instructions to evacuate Gaza.

“Even in the face of ceaseless military demands to evacuate our charitable institutions and houses of worship, we will not abandon this Christian mission, for there is literally no other safe place for these innocents to run.”

However, Palestinian Anglicans have criticised Archbishop Welby’s statements on the war in Gaza, in which he has asserted Israel’s right to self-defence but also called for a ceasefire.

A group wrote to the archbishop on 21 October saying they were “utterly perplexed” by his position.  The authors, from the Anglican congregations in Ramallah and Birzeit in the occupied West Bank, said they faced “a genocide of the Palestinian people and a serious threat to extinguish the Christian presence” by “constant attack ever since the onset of the State of Israel”.

“What we would expect from our Church is to fully condemn the systematic denial of our rights, and calls to annihilate our people, especially as these are being publicly expressed by the current fascist Israeli government, rather than attempting to create a balance between the oppressed and the oppressor,” they said.

The rector of Ramallah and Birzeit, the Revd Fadi Diab, told the Church Times that he had no part in the letter but it represented the “Anglican grassroots”.

On 22 October a “A Call for Repentance” letter from Palestinian Christians to Western Church Leaders – signed by the Arab Education Institute Pax Christi, Kairos Palestine, Bethlehem Bible College, Sabeel Ecumenical Centre for Liberation Theology and 12 other Christian organisations – expressed concern at “the silence of many church leaders and theologians when it is Palestinian civilians who are killed” .

It condemned “the refusal of some western Christians to condemn the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine, and, in some instances, their justification of and support for the occupation.”

Pax Christi International has voiced its growing dismay at the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

“We empathise with the people of Israel who are shocked, angered and hurt by the despicable actions of Hamas on 7 October,” it said in a statement last week, “however, we also believe that revenge is a flawed framework for responding to this heinous crime.”

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