Pope calls for immediate cease-fire, negotiations, penance, prayers for peace
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) – Pope Benedict XVI called for an immediate cease-fire, “reasonable and responsible” negotiations aimed at ending existent injustices in the region, humanitarian aid to ease the suffering and prayer in face of a worsening Middle East conflict.
The day after what may have been the heaviest death toll in the nine days the fighting between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, the pope made another strong appeal for peace in a July 20 communiqué from the Holy See Press Office.
He declared Sunday, July 23, as a “day of prayer and penance” for Catholics and all other “believers of the world to implore from God the precious gift of peace.”
He asked that those prayers be for “an immediate cease-fire between the sides, for humanitarian corridors to be opened in order to bring help to the suffering peoples, and for reasonable and responsible negotiations to begin to put an end to objective situations of injustice that exist in that region.”
“Following with great concern the destinies of all the peoples involved,” the pope, the statement said, believes that the Lebanese, the Israelis and the Palestinians each have just claims that need to be respected.
"In reality, the Lebanese have the right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected, the Israelis the right to live in peace in their state, and the Palestinians have the right to have their own free and sovereign homeland,” the statement said.
He also urged “at this sorrowful moment” that charitable organizations “help all the people struck by this pitiless conflict.”
Two days before the statement was released by the Vatican, Pope Benedict endorsed a Group of Eight declaration that criticized Hamas and Hezbollah for fueling an escalation in current hostilities and urged Israel to exercise restraint in its retaliation.
"I find myself in full agreement with the G-8 communique," the pope said July 18 during his vacation in the northern Italian Alps. "I have nothing else to add other than the importance of prayer so that God may help us."
In July 16 remarks after reciting the Sunday Angelus in Les Combes, Italy, the pope condemned Hezbollah “terrorist” attacks and Israeli reprisals as acts that can never be justified in his first public comments on the escalating Middle East violence.
News coming from the Holy Land in recent days is "a cause of new and serious concern to everyone,” Pope Benedict said, especially for the increasing military activity in Lebanon and for the many victims among the civilian population."
He noted that “at the root of such pitiless contrasts” between the warring sides are “unfortunately objective... violations of rights and of justice.”
But, the pope stressed, such issues cannot be used to sanction bloodshed.
“Neither terrorist attacks or reprisals, especially when they have such tragic consequences on the civilian population, can be justified,” he said.
“Bitter experience shows that by following this path no positive results can be achieved,” he added.
In a July 14, 2006, Vatican Radio declaration, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, said "the latest dramatic episodes… risk degenerating into a conflict with international repercussions.”
"As in the past, the Holy See also condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other,” Cardinal Sodano said.
He stressed that Israel has a “right to self-defense,” but that “does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations.”
The cardinal decried the attack on Lebanon, “a free and sovereign nation,” and noted the Holy See’s “closeness to those people who have suffered so much in the defense of their own independence.”
"Once again,” Cardinal Sodano said, “it appears obvious that the only path worthy of our civilization is that of sincere dialogue between the contending parties."
At least 300 Lebanese and 29 Israelis have been killed, some 1,000 injured and about 500,000 displaced from their homes in the violence, according to reports in both countries, which was sparked by the July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers. Reports put the death toll in July 19 violence as high at 70, which would make it the single deadliest day since the fighting began.
Israel’s attacks in Lebanon came two weeks after it sent its forces into Gaza after a Hamas-led group kidnapped a soldier in a cross-border raid.
Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, razing Jewish settlements it established there. Israel hasn't launched a full-scale military attack on Lebanon or Hezbollah since it pulled its troops out of southern Lebanon in 2000.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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