14 November 2023, The Tablet

Caritas pleads for peace in Gaza as death toll rises

In his Angelus address last Sunday, Pope Francis said: “Let us not lose hope.”

Caritas pleads for peace in Gaza as death toll rises

Catholics in Jerusalem lit candles at the end of a prayer vigil for peace on 9 November.
Marinella Bandini / CNA

Caritas Internationalis joined international appeals for a ceasefire in Gaza as the Pope urged the world not to lose hope for peace.

In a statement titled “Now is the time for peace”, the central confederation of Caritas aid agencies across the world called for unimpeded humanitarian access to the 2.3 million people still in Gaza, while urging Hamas to release the hostages taken from Israel on 7 October.

Alistair Dutton, the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, said that “through our common humanity, all human life is equally sacred, and none can be written off as necessary collateral damage”.

He said that international humanitarian law must be respected, and that required observing distinctions between civilians and combatants.

In his Angelus address last Sunday, Pope Francis said: “Let us not lose hope.” He encouraged the congregation in St Peter’s Square to “pray and work tirelessly so that the sense of humanity may prevail over hardness of heart”.

More than 10,000 people, including 4,400 children, have been killed by Israeli operations in Gaza since early October, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.  

More than 700 people sheltering in the compound of Gaza’s only Catholic parish were “filled with terror and fear”, according to reports. Pope Francis has telephoned the parish daily to talk to them and give his blessing.

George Anton from Caritas Jerusalem described leaving his young family in the compound “to go to get bread, to bring medicine or clothes, and every time I go, I say: ‘Goodbye. If I return back, all is OK. If not, that’s it.’” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already rejected any suggestion of a ceasefire, insisting it would allow Hamas to regroup, but has said he would consider “tactical little pauses”. Last weekend, regional directors of UN agencies called for international action to stop attacks on hospitals in Gaza.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement: “We are horrified at the latest reports of attacks on and in the vicinity of Al-Shifa Hospital, Al-Rantisi Naser Paediatric Hospital, Al-Quds Hospital, and others in Gaza city and northern Gaza, killing many, including children.”

Premature and new-born babies on life support were dying due to power, oxygen, and water cuts at Al-Shifa Hospital, it reported.  The WHO recorded at least 137 attacks on health care in Gaza, resulting in 521 deaths and 686 injuries, including 16 deaths of health workers on duty. Attacks on medical facilities and civilians are a violation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law and Conventions.

More than 170 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,600 injured in the occupied West Bank, amid mounting violence since the war began, including an attack by Israeli forces on an anti-war vigil in Nazareth.

Rabbis for Human Rights are working to help Palestinian farmers’ access their land in the West Bank, so they can conduct the olive harvest safely.

Last weekend, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, asked its congregations to forego festive activities during Advent and Christmas.

They encouraged “our priests and the faithful to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas in their pastoral activities and liturgical celebrations during this period, with all the focus directed at holding in our thoughts our brothers and sisters affected by this war and its consequences, and with fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace for our beloved Holy Land”.

They invited the faithful to pray and contribute towards the relief of the victims of the war.

A statement by the Council of the Heads of Churches in Jordan announced the cancellation of all Christmas celebrations and festivities this year. Celebrations will be restricted to prayers and liturgies, and next Sunday’s collections will be forwarded to Gaza.

Pax Christi International has given its 2023 International Peace Award to the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a collaborative Israeli-Palestinian organisation comprising more than 700 families which have lost members to the continuing conflict.

The award ceremony will be held in the Holy Land in 2024, as soon as conditions allow.

The PCFF works for reconciliation as an essential precondition for attaining a lasting peace and works in education, public gatherings, and the media to build peace.

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