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CURRENT ISSUE:  August 7, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 14Oakland, CA

Crisis escalates in Mideast conflict

Pope, patriarchs call for cease-fire

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI renewed his appeal for an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East, saying nothing could justify the shedding of innocent blood, particularly the blood of so many children.

Three days after an Israeli air raid in Qana, Lebanon, led to the deaths of 56 civilians, including at least 37 children, Pope Benedict asked people attending his Aug. 2 general audience at the Vatican to continue “to pray for the dear and martyred region of the Middle East.”

“Our eyes are filled with the chilling images of people’s bodies -- especially children’s -- torn apart. I am thinking particularly of Qana in Lebanon,” he said.

“I want to repeat that nothing can justify the spilling of innocent blood, no matter which side does it,” the pope said.

“With a heart filled with affliction,” he said, “once again I renew a pressing appeal for an immediate cessation of all hostilities and all violence.”

Pope Benedict again asked the international community “and those most directly involved in this tragedy” to move quickly to create the conditions needed for a “definite political solution of the crisis,” a solution “able to give a more serene and secure future to the generations to come.”

The pope’s appeal came the morning after Israel began a major ground incursion into southern Lebanon in what was seen as an attempt to severely weaken and root out Hezbollah guerrillas from the border region before a cease-fire is called.

Pope Benedict’s appeal at the general audience echoed a joint statement from the Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs and the Episcopal and Lutheran bishops in Jerusalem.

“The moral imperative is clear,” they wrote July 7 to leaders in the Middle East. “Stop all the violence. Stop the killing. Protect the life and dignity of the people. Begin negotiations… And listen to God’s call, 'Depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.' ”

Bishop Thomas Wenski, chair of the U.S. bishops committee on international policy, also called for an end to the violence, saying only genuine dialogue and negotiations can bring a lasting and just peace to the region.

He condemned both the terror and provocative acts of Hamas and Hezbollah that precipitated the crisis and what he called “militarily disproportionate and indiscriminate” response by Israel.

“In light of traditional Catholic teaching, massive counterattacks on civilian areas and infrastructure, blockades and other acts of war should not be supported. Punishment of entire people for the indefensible acts of militant armed factions contradicts traditional just war norms.”

In a front-page editorial Aug. 2, the Vatican newspaper said that rather than avoiding photographs of the “dirt- and blood-covered corpses” of the children, people should look at them and allow themselves to be horrified and outraged.

Red Cross workers move the body of a child killed in an Israeli air raid on the village of Qana in southern Lebanon, July 30. Some 56 civilians, including at least 37 children, died in the attack.



Israeli soldiers evacuate a wounded comrade near the Israeli town of Avivim, along the Israel-Lebanon border, July 20.


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