Sunday Pope Francis addressed the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, which has been launching rockets into Israel. He recalled the meeting of prayer held in the Vatican last month with President Peres of Israel and President Abu Mazen of the Palestinian Authority. And once again the Holy Father called us all to be instruments of peace by constant prayer for peace in the Middle East He prayed the Lord help us to “have the courage to say ‘No More War’! Give us the courage to take concrete actions to build peace; to transform our weapons into instruments of peace, our fears into trust and out tensions into forgiveness.”

We are one with the Holy Father in his appeal and in his prayers. I urge all our pastors and all our faithful to be united once more in a renewed commitment to prayer for peace in the Middle East!
May I add a reflection of my own born of some experience with Middle Eastern issues and of my commitment as a priest and bishop for all the many ways the Catholic Church seeks to offer her good offices for peace based on justice, freedom ,human dignity and the safety and security of people and nations?

If one were to ask what would motivate Israel and her leaders to launch an attack on Gaza, one would be hard pressed to find any reason whatsoever. Gaza is sadly a place where poor Palestinians suffer and many families, some Christian, mostly Mulsim, live in poverty and uncertainty about the future. There is no ”gain”, material, political or moral, for Israel to begin an attack on a poor people who rightly seek freedom, security and justice for themselves and their families but will not achieve it through rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas.

Why does Hamas launch these attacks that send rockets indiscriminately into Israeli cities and villages? They know that by themselves they cannot wage a successful war against Israel. Yet on June 30 Hamas significantly escalated its attacks against civilians in a constant but haphazard and indiscriminate way. This constant barrage of rockets against Israeli citizens, not against Israel military installations, would seem quixotic. In fact it simply sows seeds of terror in cities and villages in Israel thus seeking to wreak havoc and destruction, not on military targets but on innocent men, women in children in Israeli cities and neighborhoods. How would we react if an outside force did that to us here at home? No one should have to live in fear in their own homes and communities.

Rightly some can point to the aggressiveness of individuals in the Israeli forces in the way they have and all too often continue to harass Palestinians. Rightly we need to say to Israel as well as to the Palestinians that they can and they should move beyond the current impasse. Both sides can and should be ready to become not enemies but neighbors to each other and to all the peoples and nations which surround them. I am as aware as anyone of the history and of the distrust and enmity that has so marked that history. Yet it cannot go on forever. We should never forget that this latest conflict is not between Hamas and Israel alone. There are too many innocent Palestinians to consider, too many innocent Israelis who suffer as well.

In the meantime, Egypt has been acting as a broker and has proposed a truce. Israel accepted the proposal. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, did as well. Unfortunately he has no control over Hamas which refused to accept a truce. It becomes clearer and clearer that the leadership in other Arab countries understand the importance of calling a halt to this conflict. Israel does as well. Only Hamas wishes to continue their indiscriminate rocket launching against the Israeli people. The response of Israel has been to warn the people living in northeast Gaza to leave their homes prior to their response with Israeli rockets. Palestinian homes and innocent civilians have been harmed precisely because these homes are launching pads for Hamas’ rockets. Hamas is using the people of Gaza as a shield to protect their weapons while Israel is using its weapons to protect their citizens. This violence cannot go on. Wiser heads and true peacemakers must prevail.

The Holy Father is right. We cannot continue this conflict without new efforts, new determination, new commitment for the principals and their allies to move beyond these flare ups toward a real and permanent solution that will give Israel her sovereignty within safe borders, recognized and respected by all and the people of Palestine a sovereign nation with viable borders, recognized and respected by all.

Following the Holy Father’s initiative announced last Fall for a day of prayer, I am designating October 4, the Feast day of St. Francis of Assisi as a day of prayer and penance for peace in the Middle East. In the weeks ahead we will be preparing materials for all the parishes to come together on the feast of the Poverello to be one in prayer for this noble cause. In the meantime I invite us all to make this one of our daily intentions. Join me in Prayer. Join me in Hope. Join me in a new commitment to pray for peace built upon mutual respect, justice, freedom and a shared desire to live as neighbors by all who live in the land we all call holy.