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200 days of war: “Nothing will ever be like before”

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa

© ATS Proterrasancta

J-P Mauro - published on 04/27/24

“I have no doubt: This is the most difficult trial we have had to face,” Cardinal Pizzaballa said of his and his community's struggles.

In a recent interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Patriarch of Jerusalem, reflected on the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine, as it surpassed 200 days since the October 7 invasion of Israel. The cardinal lamented that “not much has changed” in the state of the war in the months since November, but he has recognized a distinct change in himself and his community after spending months with the war looming over their heads. 

“I have no doubt: This is the most difficult trial we have had to face,” Cardinal Pizzaballa said as he spoke of his Catholic community’s efforts to stem an “excess of pessimism,” as the tragedies of war unfold every day. He said that prayer has been an excellent tool to help weather this storm as the people deal with uncertainties: 

“The uncertainty now is about how much longer this war will last, and even more, what will happen after, because you see one thing is certain. Nothing will ever be like before. And I am not referring just to politics. I am thinking of each of us.”

The charity of listening

For his own part, Cardinal Pizzaballa said that he has changed in his propensity for listening.

He said that listening has become a prime form of charity, bringing comfort and understanding to the pain and suffering of each person’s story. In a recent trip to Galilee, he met with local religious leaders of all faiths in an effort to overcome mistrust by creating a dialogue.

“There is no need for great speeches. It is enough to share a meal and drink something together to break down the walls that separate us. A dinner together can do a lot more than a conference or a document on interreligious dialogue. We have to try to understand what we have in common rather than what separates us.”

He said that Pope Francis has had a “great impact” on the war and said that the Pope has brought special comfort with daily phone calls. He also noted that the Pope’s calls for ceasefires have been especially prudent, even when they draw criticism from both sides

“…indeed perhaps precisely when they were the object of criticism, they manifested the great authority which he enjoys. His repeated warnings for the release of hostages and an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip have entered into the history of this war. I would like to recall that many today invoke a ceasefire but in November only the solitary and courageous voice of Pope Francis called for it.”

Desolate Bethlehem

When asked what the hardest days of the war have been, Cardinal Pizzaballa said the first days were some of the hardest, because the community was still in shock. The next hardest time came during Christmas, when outward celebrations were forced to be subdued. While he said that he understood why measures of precaution were taken, he still worries that it will leave a lasting mark on the younger people: 

“The privation of Christmas joy, the feast of Christ who was born to bring peace, was terrible for our Christians. Especially for the youngest ones. Images of the desolation of Bethlehem at Christmas will not be easily forgotten in the coming years.”

He said that the primary concern now is the end of the war.

“I think that everything that has happened in these six months has shown in an obvious way, the inescapability of the ‘two-state solution.’ There is no alternative to the two states than to continue war. But the two states have to change from within. They have to rethink themselves.”

Two states living in peace

The Vatican has long insisted on the two-state solution being the only way forward, and in his most recent pleas for peace, the Pope has said so specifically.

Just on Wednesday at the end of the general audience, he said:

And let us also pray for the Middle East, for Gaza: it suffers so much there, in the war. For peace between Palestine and Israel, that they be two states, free and with good relations. Let us pray for peace.

On April 14, after praying the midday Regina Caeli, the Pope said:

No one should threaten the existence of others. Instead, may all nations take the side of peace, and help Israelis and Palestinians live in two States, side by side, in safety. It is their deep and legitimate desire, and it is their right! Two neighbouring States.

While Cardinal Pizzaballa admitted that “it will not be easy,” he warned that to make no attempt would “seriously compromise their future.”: 

“Throughout the world, there is currently not a great atmosphere. In many countries, there is the parceling out of interests, an increase in social egotism, the delirium of power and subjugation that creates conflict. This does not help. Although I may [be] accused of partisanship, I hear only Pope Francis’ voice going in the opposite direction.”

Read the full interview at Vatican News.

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