While conceding it’s not “realistic” to expect peace anytime soon, the top Catholic official in the Holy Land nevertheless has called for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and for real progress towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s about time to go to the root of the problems in the Holy Land, not just find temporary solutions,” said Italian Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, on Jan. 27.
“No one, given the dramatic situation we are living, is ready to accept something temporary,” he said.
Pizzaballa, 58, made the comments to reporters during a recent visit to Chicago to meet local Arab Catholics. He said it’s “necessary now” for Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire as the first step to an eventual two-state solution.
“We need to address the problems at their roots, and find a permanent solution – a two-state solution,” he said. “Israel, Palestine, with Jerusalem at the heart.”
“I know this seems to be very far from the reality, but it’s about time to talk seriously about this perspective, otherwise a temporary solution is only a pause between one war to another war, and this is what we don’t want anymore,” Pizzaballa said, who’s led the Catholic community in the Holy Land since 2020.
Pizzaballa acknowledged it’s not realistic to expect peace anytime soon.
“It is too early, and it is not realistic to talk about peace now. Peace is not just an agreement. It is the desire to live close to one another peacefully in a framework agreed upon by all,” Pizzaballa said. “We are not there yet.”
“We do not know when we arrive there, but the first thing to do is to stop the violence and then to start finding other ways to solve the problems,” he said.
During his visit to Chicago, Pizzaballa met the Arab Catholic community at Our Lady of the Ridge Church in Chicago Ridge. He celebrated a Mass Jan. 27, which was attended by more than 400 Arab Catholics, along with archdiocesan clergy and the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre.
Pizzaballa also met with the Our Lady of the Holy Land community, a parish group serving Arab Catholics. The community has gathered for more than a year with the Latin Patriarchate of the Holy Land, sending priests for short periods.
According to recent figures released by the Palestinian health ministry, the death toll from the Israel-Hamas war has surpassed 26,000, with more than 1.5 million people displaced. Those numbers, however, are disputed.
On Jan. 18, the European Union adopted a resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire in the war, on the condition that Hamas be dismantled and all hostages be released.
In recent days, the United States, Australia, Canada, England, Germany, and multiple other European countries have suspended funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after allegations by Israel that a dozen of its staff members were involved in the Oct. 7 sneak attack by Hamas that triggered the conflict.
The United Nations has urged the countries to reconsider, citing the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza.
Pizzaballa did not respond to a Crux request for comment on the UNRWA allegations and the impact of suspending aid.
In his remarks in Chicago, Pizzaballa called the overall situation in Gaza “very problematic and complex.” He said it is the duty of the international community to pressure the two sides to find a solution.
“Pressure from the international community is very important in order to help the two sides compromise more. Both sides know very well that they need to compromise, but apparently, as I understand, it is not enough,” Pizzaballa said.
“They need more pressure in order to arrive to a conclusion to stop this violence and to start looking to different perspectives,” he said.
Pizzaballa said he is in contact with Pope Francis “quite often,” and that the pontiff calls the lone Catholic parish in Gaza almost every day to “support them morally.”
He added that the Church has a role to play in the two sides finding a peaceful solution to end the war.
“We have to reconcile the differences among us, and also try to discreetly, but stubbornly, to work for dialogue between the parties,” Pizzaballa said. “We don’t necessarily need to be the mediator, but to help create conditions – the religious conditions, the social conditions – in order to help this.”
By John Lavenburg