Buildings lie in ruin in Gaza as seen from southern Israel Dec. 12 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. OSV News photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters

Development and Peace joins Cardinal’s call for Gaza peace

  • December 20, 2023

Holy Land Catholic leaders have appealed for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Canadian support in dealing with the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzabella, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Anton Asfar, secretary general of Caritas Jerusalem, made their impassioned pleas as they spoke at a webinar hosted by Development and Peace, the Canadian arm of Caritas Internationalis Dec. 16. The two emphasized an urgent need to support the humanitarian work of Caritas and other aid organizations facing major challenges as the Hamas-Israel war shows little sign of waning.

Together with Carl Hétu, executive director of Development and Peace, Pizzabella and Asfar described in vivid detail the unbearable suffering of people on the ground in Gaza who have literally been pushed to the wall — as well as to the limits of human endurance — with nowhere to go.

“On Oct. 7, I saw on the news that Hamas had taken (more than 200) Israelis as hostages,” he said. “I was sad and angry, and like most Canadians, expected that retaliation would be swift and violent. But I had no idea how violent it would be.”

There’s an extra dimension for those caught in the Israel-Hamas war.

“The people of Gaza are in a unique situation. Unlike other victims of war, they have nowhere to go. When war broke out in Syria and Iraq, people could get out of the country. Many fled to Lebanon, where some of them still live. Venezuelans could go to Colombia, and Ukrainians escaped to Poland. All of them got aid. But this is not possible for the people of Gaza.”

“There is no place for Gazans, just as there was no place for the Holy Family,” Pizzabella said.

Asfar said all escape routes are closed and humanitarian organizations are facing enormous obstacles in bringing aid to people left without food, medicine and other necessities of life.

The cardinal gave a detailed account of a day in the life of the tiny Christian community.

“Today was a very difficult day for us,” he said. “Our small Christian community of 700 gathered in the Catholic and Orthodox compounds were in the middle of heavy fighting between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces.”

He added that the house of the Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity had its generator and water tank destroyed and was no longer habitable.

“We (the Christian community) have cancelled all Christmas celebrations except a few children’s activities,” he said.

With no water to drink or wash, disease is rampant in Gaza and most hospitals have been destroyed, leaving the sick to fend for themselves, he pointed out.

Another casualty of the war is trust between Israelis and Palestinians, he said.

“The hatred between the two sides is so strong, and both Israelis and Palestinians don’t want to see each other,” he added. “All interreligious dialogue and communication between the two sides has broken down. Each side sticks to its own narrative, and blames the other for their pain.”

Asfar described the daily difficulties his organization faces.

“There is no safety anywhere. Several of our staff members have been killed,” said Asfar. “There are 1.8 million internally displaced people in Gaza, and many are orphan children.”

Despite being forced to scale down operations, Caritas is still providing food, medicine and medical supplies to those in need, he said.

Asfar pleaded with the Israeli authorities to permit Caritas and other humanitarian agencies to operate in safety.

Pizzabella, Asfar and Hétu made a special appeal for Canadian support to end the war, and to address its root causes in the Holy Land.

“We need your prayers and we need you to support Caritas and other organizations on the ground,” Pizzabella said.

“You (Canadians) can help us to come together, and look beyond the present situation. You can do this by not replicating the divisions we have here.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.