In letter to Holy Land Christians, Pope Francis deplores the war, expresses closeness  — By: Catholic News Agency

Students and teachers from Jerusalem Christian schools walk the Way of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The yearly event was organized by the Custody of the Holy Land on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, on the occasion of Lent. / Credit: Marinella Bandini

Rome Newsroom, Mar 27, 2024 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday issued a letter to the Christians of the Holy Land in preparation for Good Friday, expressing his solidarity with a community that continues to suffer amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“Dear brothers and sisters, allow me to tell you once more that you are not alone. We will never leave you alone but will demonstrate our solidarity with you by prayer and practical charity,” the pope wrote in his Holy Wednesday letter.

“In these bleak times, when it seems that the dark clouds of Good Friday hover over your land, and all too many parts of our world are scarred by the pointless folly of war — which is always and for everyone a bitter defeat — you are lamps shining in the night, seeds of goodness in a land rent asunder by conflict,” the pope continued. 

Emphasizing his “paternal affection,” the pope joined the beleaguered population in sharing in their “sufferings” and “struggles.” 

“I embrace those most affected by the senseless tragedy of war: the children robbed of their future, those who grieve and are in pain, and all who find themselves prey to anguish and dismay,” the pope continued. 

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, called the situation “objectively intolerable” in an interview last week with Italian television station TV2000. 

Imploring upon the world’s leaders to find an end to the carnage, Pizzaballa noted that there have always been many economic hardships, “but there has never been hunger before.” According to the Gazan Health Ministry, 27 children have died from malnutrition and dehydration. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to press forward with the offensive to the densely populated city of Rafah in Southern Gaza, where more than 1.5 million people are sheltering. The United Nations Security Council voted on Monday for a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. 

In his letter the pope reflected on his own visit to the region in May 2014, marking the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in Jerusalem, and again stressed the imperative for peace.  

Quoting from Paul VI’s 1964 apostolic exhortation Nobis in Animo, Francis wrote: “The continuing tensions in the Middle East, and the lack of concrete progress toward peace, represent a constant and dire threat not only to the peace and security of those peoples — and indeed of the entire world — but also to values supremely dear, for different reasons, to much of mankind.” 

The pope also highlighted the particular importance of Easter, “the heart of our faith,” for Holy Land Christians, given its geographic centrality in the story of revelation and the place where Christ’s passion and death occurred.  

“The history of salvation, and indeed its geography, would not exist apart from the land in which you have dwelt for centuries,” the pope wrote. “There you want to remain, and there it is good that you should remain. Thank you for your testimony of faith, thank you for the charity that exists among you, thank you for your ability to hope against all hope.” 

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