On Friday, Pope Francis asked the bishops and participants in the Vatican synod on the family to join him in offering midday prayers for the intention of reconciliation and peace in the Middle East.
The Pope said:
We are painfully struck by and are following with great concern what is happening in Syria, in Iraq, in Jerusalem and the West Bank, where we see an escalation of violence that involves innocent civilians and that continues to fuel a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions.
In the past month, Jerusalem and the West Bank have been rocked by a surge in violence involving both Palestinians and Israelis with shootings, stabbings, riots, and arson attacks. On Friday, six people were killed and 30 others injured in clashes across Gaza, as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continued to grow. Another four were injured with stab wounds in the Israeli city of Dimona, in the Negev desert, south of the West Bank, according to a police spokeswoman.
A spate of recent violent attacks on Israeli citizens has led Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, to urge all residents to carry firearms for self-defense this week.
“Given the current escalation in the security situation, those with a licensed firearm who know what to do with it must go out with it – it’s an imperative,” Barkat told Israel’s Army Radio, comparing the measure to “military reserve duty.”
In his appeal Friday, Pope Francis said that war “brings destruction and multiplies the suffering of the people,” whereas “hope and progress only result from choices for peace.”
The Pope asked for “intense and confident prayer to the Lord,” which he said would be an expression of solidarity with Middle Eastern Patriarchs and Bishops present in the Vatican for the synod, with their priests and faithful, and the inhabitants of the region.
As he has done on other occasions, Francis appealed to the “international community” to find a way “to effectively help the parties involved,” urging them to employ the “instruments of international law and diplomacy, to resolve the current conflicts.”
The Pope also reached out to Africa, “extending his prayer” to those areas of Africa that are experiencing similar situations of conflict.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.