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Pope Francis announces prayer vigil, day of fasting for peace in Israel-Hamas war

Pope Francis presides over his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Oct. 18, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2023 / 13:08 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis at the end of his general audience on Wednesday morning announced another day of prayer and fasting for an end to the Israel-Hamas war. 

“I have decided to call for a day of fasting and prayer on Friday, Oct. 27,” the pope said.

It will be “a day of penance to which I invite sisters and brothers of the various Christian denominations, those belonging to other religions, and all those who have at heart the cause of peace in the world, to join in as they see fit,” the Holy Father continued.

The vigil will take place at 6 p.m. in St. Peter’s Square, where the faithful will join the pope to participate in “an hour of prayer in a spirit of penance to implore peace in our time, peace in this world. I ask all the particular Churches to participate by arranging similar activities involving the people of God,” the pope said.

The Holy Father’s announcement comes after the Catholic Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, called for a global day of prayer and fasting, which was held on Oct. 17, “to deliver to God the Father our thirst for peace, justice, and reconciliation.”

The Holy Father’s announcement was preceded by his renewed appeal for peace in the Holy Land.

“Our thoughts turn to Palestine and Israel,” the pope said. “The number of victims is rising and the situation in Gaza is desperate. Please, let everything possible be done to avoid a humanitarian disaster. The possible widening of the conflict is disturbing, while so many war fronts are already open in the world. May weapons be silenced, and let us heed the cry for peace of the poor, the people, the children.”

“Brothers and sisters, war does not solve any problem: It sows only death and destruction, foments hate, proliferates revenge. War cancels out the future, it cancels out the future. I urge believers to take just one side in this conflict: that of peace. But not in words — in prayer, with total dedication,” he concluded. 

The Holy Father’s comments come as the death toll continues to rise in the conflict-ridden area. The United Nations issued a press release on Tuesday evening stating that “a staggering” 4,200 people have been killed and “over 1 million people [have been] displaced in just 10 days.” 

Israel was blamed by Hamas after a Tuesday evening blast at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City left an estimated death toll of nearly 500, according to the Palestinian health ministry. The Israeli government has denied these allegations, blaming it instead on Hamas. Several Arab states have joined Hamas in condemning Israel.

An immediate wave of anger and condemnation spread across the Middle East, with some calls for further protests and even “a day of rage,” Al-Jazeera reported.

This escalation and mounting humanitarian crisis comes as U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel Wednesday morning to engage in high-level talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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