Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, last week lamented the deaths of 18 Palestinians in a missile strike on the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius in Gaza City.
In an interview conducted with Italian Catholic television network TV2000 and reported on by Vatican News on Saturday, Pizzaballa, the head of Latin Catholics living in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Cyprus, said: “War and bombs have never solved problems; on the contrary, they always create new ones.”
Speaking of those killed in the bombings, Pizzaballa said: “The pain of those families, who have already been suffering for a long time, is enormous, and we are with them.”
The missile blasts, which struck a building on the church compound on Thursday, killed 18 people, including children, and injured several others, according to reports received by the Holy Orthodox Order of St. George, a “pan-Orthodox” aid group.
Among the victims killed were 17 Orthodox and one Muslim, according to the Order of St. George.
There were “at most 1,000 Christians residing in Gaza” in 2019, according to a State Department report. Pizzaballa said that the Catholic community in Gaza City has decided to stay.
“First of all because they don’t know where to go and then because they say that no place in the Gaza Strip is safe,” he explained.
“Let’s hope that reason returns to those who make decisions,” the patriarch said during the interview.
“We pray that this situation ends as soon as possible,” he said.
The current church was constructed during the Crusades and remodeled in the 1800s.
In a statement last week, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which is led by Theophilos III, blamed an “Israeli airstrike” for the deaths.
The patriarchate said that “despite the evident targeting of the facilities and shelters of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and other churches,” it is “committed to fulfilling its religious and moral duty in providing assistance, support, and refuge to those in need.”
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), meanwhile, told media that it was reviewing the incident.
“The IDF can unequivocally state that the church was not the target of the strike,” the military said.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople also lamented the attack, sending his condolences to Theophilos III via a phone call on Friday, according to Vatican News. He also expressed his hopes that “peace and security may be restored as soon as possible for everyone in the Middle East.”
Vatican News said many of the refugees who were taking shelter at the Greek Orthodox church have now moved to the nearby Holy Family Catholic Parish, “which already shelters other civilians seeking refuge.”
By Peter Pinedo | CNA