The Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, condemned “outbreaks of religious hatred” provoked by the war in the Holy Land.
In a statement on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), where he is chairman of the Committee on Religious Freedom, Cardinal Dolan said that instances of hatred “shock the conscience”.
“It is especially disheartening to learn that the man accused of killing a six-year-old Muslim boy in Chicago reportedly identifies as a Catholic,” he said.
Joseph Czuba, who has been charged with stabbing Wadea al-Fayoume to death on 14 October and gravely injuring the boy’s mother, was a parishioner of the Church of St Mary Immaculate in Plainfield, Illinois, the Diocese of Joliet confirmed.
The parish priest Fr Pat Mulcahy told OSV News: “Our hearts are absolutely broken and ache for the family.”
Czuba, who was the family’s landlord, was reportedly friendly with the family in the past and treated Wadea “like a grandson”. Court documents said he became angry with Hanaan Shahin, Wadea’s mother, “for what is going on in Jerusalem”, and she urged him to pray with her for peace before he attacked.
In his USCCB statement, Cardinal Dolan said: “Nothing could be more antithetical to our Church’s teachings than this man’s alleged crime.”
He also warned that “our Jewish brothers and sisters reasonably fear for their lives” as large crowds celebrated the Hamas terror attack on 7 October, alongside protesters calling for peace. Security official have warned of “historic levels” of antisemitism in the US.
“In the face of such base hatred, we must affirm certain fundamental truths,” Cardinal Dolan said. “Every human life is of equally incalculable worth. Hating your neighbours is a grave sin against God, who created us all in his image and likeness. Violence only begets more violence, not justice.”
Protests have increased in the US in response to the escalating violence in Gaza. Bishop David J Malloy, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued a statement on 27 October calling for the release of Israeli hostages and humanitarian access to the region.
“We must not grow weary of offering our prayers and support for peace and justice for all concerned,” he said. “A lasting solution respecting the rights, needs, and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians remains essential to these ends.”
He also warned against “any tendency to sow hatred against other people or faiths”.
As the Israeli expanded ground operations last weekend, the “Jewish Voice for Peace” reported an emergency sit-in during rush hour at New York City’s Grand Central Station on 28 October, demanding an immediate ceasefire.
On 2 November, Christian peacemakers held a “pray-in” outside the White House to call on President Joe Biden encourage the combatants to de-escalate hostilities, accept a ceasefire and release hostages.
They called for more support for diplomacy, accountability mechanisms, robust humanitarian aid, and strategic peacebuilding.
Co-sponsors included the Catholic Advisory Council of Churches for Middle East Peace, Franciscan Action Network, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and Pax Christi USA.
Johnny Zokovitch, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said: “Pax Christi USA is deeply aware of the US government's complicity in this conflict, its tacit support of the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, and its unchecked military aid to Israel.”
Marie Dennis of Pax Christi International's Catholic Nonviolence Initiative said that “strong, courageous, effective nonviolent action, not more weapons and war, is the only path to a peaceful future”.
Several presidents of Catholic colleges and universities, like their secular counterparts, have struggled to calibrate official statements after the Hamas attack.
Peter Kilpatrick, president of the Catholic University of America issued an initial statement that the university “is saddened by the surge of violence in Israel over the last few days” and praying for “a just and durable peace in the Holy Land”.
A subsequent statement mentioned Hamas by name and called it a “terrorist organisation”.
Fr John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, was the only head of a Catholic university listed as a “coalition founder” of an ad hoc group organised by the president of Yeshiva University, which issued a statement saying the university leaders “are horrified and sickened by the brutality and inhumanity of Hamas.”
In a separate statement, Jenkins announced that Notre Dame was transferring its students from its Tantur Institute in Jerusalem, adding, “Saddened by the outbreak of war in the Holy Land, I join with many in abhorring the killing of non-combatants and I echo the Holy Father’s call to pray for all victims of the current conflict, for an end to the cycle of violence, and for a lasting peace with justice.”
Additional reporting by Michael Sean Winters.