Pope decries ‘appalling harvest’ of civilian deaths in Gaza

In Christmas message, Pope Francis says Israeli strikes are reaping an ‘appalling harvest’ of innocent civilians.

Pope Francis stands at the balcony of St. Peter's basilica to deliver the Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican on December 25, 2023. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)
Pope Francis delivers the Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing in St Peter's Square at The Vatican [Tiziana Fabi/AFP]

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is reaping an “appalling harvest” of innocent civilians, Pope Francis said in his Christmas message.

In his Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and world) address on Monday, the head of the Catholic Church also called the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas “abominable” and again appealed for the release of about 100 hostages still being held in Gaza, as he appealed for an end to hostilities.

Speaking from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to thousands of people in the square below, the 87-year-old Francis called for an end to conflicts, political, social or military, in places including Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and he defended the rights of migrants around the world.

“How, many innocents are being slaughtered in our world! In their mothers’ wombs, in odysseys undertaken in desperation and in search of hope, in the lives of all those little ones whose childhood has been devastated by war. They are the little Jesuses of today,” he said.

He gave particular attention to the Holy Land, including Gaza. Overnight on Christmas Eve, Israeli air raids killed at least 78 people in one of the besieged enclave’s deadliest nights of Israel’s 11-week-old battle with Hamas, according to Palestinian health officials.

“May it [peace] come in Israel and Palestine, where war is devastating the lives of those peoples. I embrace them all, particularly the Christian communities of Gaza and the entire Holy Land,” Francis said.

‘Puppet strings of war’

“I plead for an end to the military operations with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims, and call for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid,” he said.

Last week, a United Nations-backed body said in a report that the entire 2.3 million population of Gaza was facing crisis levels of hunger and that the risk of famine was increasing every day.

The Vatican, which has diplomatic relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, believes a two-state solution is the only answer to the long-running conflict. Francis called for “persevering dialogue between the parties, sustained by strong political will and the support of the international community”.

Dedicating an entire paragraph of his message to the weapons trade, Francis said: “And how can we even speak of peace, when arms production, sales and trade are on the rise?”

He called for more investigation of the armaments trade.

“It should be talked about and written about, so as to bring to light the interests and the profits that move the puppet strings of war,” he said.

Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip since the cross-border attack by Hamas on October 7, killing at least 20,424 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and injuring 54,036 others, according to local health authorities.

About 1,140 people were killed in Israel in the Hamas attack.

The Israeli onslaught has left Gaza in ruins, with half of the coastal territory’s housing damaged or destroyed and nearly two million people displaced within the densely populated enclave amid shortages of food, clean water and medicines.

Source: News Agencies