“It is unacceptable that you put out a statement expressing worry primarily for Gazan civilians while Israel is burying 1,300 who were murdered.”—Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, in a phone call yesterday evening to the Vatican’s “foreign minister, British Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, according to a statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The Israeli foreign minister was protesting public remarks that Pope Francis made at his noon Sunday Angelus yesterday in St. Peter’s Square.
“I continue to follow what’s happening in Israel and Palestine with great sorrow. I think again of so many, in particular children and the elderly. I renew my appeal for the liberation of the hostages, and I ask strongly that children, the sick, the elderly, women and all civilians not be victims of the conflict. Humanitarian law must be respected, above all in Gaza, where it’s urgent and necessary to guarantee humanitarian corridors and to protect the entire population.” —Pope Francis, during his Sunday Angelus prayer and message in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, October 15
Israel “expects the Vatican to come out with a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the murderous terrorist actions of Hamas terrorists who harmed women, children and the elderly for the sole fact that they are Jews and Israelis. There’s no room for unfounded comparisons. Hamas, a terrorist organization worse than ISIS, invaded Israel with the intention of harming innocent civilians, while Israel is a democracy that’s trying to defend its citizens from Hamas.” —The words of Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, in a phone call last night to the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher. The contents of the phone call were made public in an Israeli government press release
“For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 180 A.D., in his Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), 4. 34. 5-7. In the original Latin (for the text of Adversus Haereses survives mainly in a Latin translation; most of the original Greek text of Irenaeus has not come down to us): “Gloria enim Dei vivens homo: vita autem hominis visio Dei.” “For the glory of God is a man living: but the life of a man is the vision of God.” (link to an English translation, and link to the Latin original)
“For the Son of God became the Son of Man, to the end that man too might become the son of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Ibid., 3:10, 2.
Letter #141, 2023, Monday, October 16: Mid-October
The weather in Rome changed during the night.
Yesterday, Sunday, October 15, was sunny and warm in the Eternal City.
Today, October 16, dawned quite cool under thick, pale clouds. Enough to require a light jacket or coat, at least until the day warms.
Autumn is in the air.
And a new sorrow has shrouded the city, and changed the emotional climate, even as the much-discussed “Synod on Synodality” reached its midway point.
In fact, the entire “mood” of the Synod, and in the press corps following the Synod, has been dramatically altered by the bloody events in Israel and Gaza since October 7 — as if the importance of the Synod’s discussions of the role of women in the Church’s hierarchy or the blessing of people in homosexual relationships has abruptly come to be seen as of relatively much less importance, as war threatens to explode in the Middle East, with incalculable consequences and many deaths.
The essential point this morning is that the Israeli government is not satisfied with the statements of Pope Francis and the Holy See and the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land thus far regarding the terrible events in the Holy Land, and is publicly protesting the Vatican’s expressions of concern for the 2.3 million people living in Gaza “while Israel is burying 1,300 who were murdered.”
And this is occurring as today is the 80th anniversary of the tragic day in 1943, October 16, (link) when, just at dawn, the German occupiers of Rome rounded up about 1,000 members of Rome’s 9,000-strong Jewish community and transported them to concentration camps. On that same morning, and in the following days, thousands of Rome’s Jews fled to Catholic convents and monasteries and found refuge there until June 4, 1944, almost nine months later, when the American army entered the city, and they were no longer in danger of arrest. Over the years, I have interviewed some of those who found such refuge, and now, at age 80 or 90 or more, have expressed gratitude to the Catholic Church and to Pope Pius XII for that protection.
However, the events of those days are still the subject of much debate and differing interpretations, and deserve to be studied more and further clarified.
The Chief Rabbi of Rome at that time, Israel Zolli, in 1945 — after consultations with Pope Pius XII in person and with Fr. Paolo Dezza, a Jesuit who was then the rector of the Gregorian University — converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Eugenio, in honor of Eugenio Pacelli (the baptismal name of Pope Pius XII).
But this conversion has also been highly controversial. The rabbi’s name was erased from the list of Rome’s rabbis by the Jewish community of Rome; there is now just a blank space where his name once stood. Zolli left Italy and taught at Notre Dame in Indiana in the United States, and died, impoverished, in 1956. I have spoken with his daughter and grand-daughter, who expressed their desire to see a healing of the rupture between the memory of their father/grandfather and the Jewish community of Rome. Here is a report on the events in Rome today to commemorate that day in 1943. (link)
The fact that new tensions between Israel and the Vatican have arisen just at this time, the anniversary of the round-up, deepens the sense of sorrow regarding all that is happening in these days, in Israel, in Gaza, in Ukraine, and in many other places of conflict around the world.
A piece today from the important Catholic news agency Crux, founded by the thoughtful Vatican journalist John Allen, Jr., sets the situation in context.
Here is a link to the article, and here below is the text:
Israel protests Pope’s language on Gaza, wants ‘unequivocal’ condemnation of Hamas
By Crux staff, October 16, 2023
ROME – Israel’s top diplomat has demanded that the Vatican issue a “clear and unequivocal” condemnation of the terrorist attacks launched by Hamas, after remarks from Pope Francis Sunday in which he called for “respect for humanitarian law” and the creation of humanitarian corridors to allow aid to reach the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen made a phone call to British Archbishop Paul Gallagher Sunday evening to protest the language used by Pope Francis in his noontime Angelus address.
“It is unacceptable that you put out a statement expressing worry primarily for Gazan civilians while Israel is burying 1,300 who were murdered,” Cohen told Gallagher, according to a statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
According to the statement, Cohen also told Gallagher that Israel “expects the Vatican to come out with a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the murderous terrorist actions of Hamas terrorists who harmed women, children and the elderly for the sole fact that they are Jews and Israelis.”
“There’s no room for unfounded comparisons,” Cohen said. “Hamas, a terrorist organization worse than ISIS, invaded Israel with the intention of harming innocent civilians, while Israel is a democracy that’s trying to defend its citizens from Hamas.”
The protest came after Francis’s appeal at the end of his regular Angelus address, in which the pope once again expressed concern for the bloodshed.
“I continue to follow what’s happening in Israel and Palestine with great sorrow,” Francis said. “I think again of so many, in particular children and the elderly. I renew my appeal for the liberation of the hostages, and I ask strongly that children, the sick, the elderly, women and all civilians not be victims of the conflict.”
“Humanitarian law must be respected, above all in Gaza, where it’s urgent and necessary to guarantee humanitarian corridors and to protect the entire population,” the pope said. “Brothers and sisters, there are already so many dead. Please, don’t shed innocent blood, not in the Holy Land, or in Ukraine, on in any other place!”
“Enough!” the pope said. “Wars are always a defeat, always!”
Francis then echoed a call from church leaders in the Holy Land to make tomorrow, Oct. 17, a day of prayer and fasting for peace.
The pope’s words came the same day that Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman released a recording of a phone conversation with Pope Francis in which Cymerman told the pope that many Argentinians were among the victims of the Hamas attacks, including people who have been killed, injured and taken hostage.
“I know, I know,” the pope can be heard saying. “I think that some of my friends are surely among them.”
In response to a request from Cymerman, Francis said he’d be happy to meet the families of Israeli-Argentinian victims of the conflict.
Cohen’s protest is part of growing objections from Israeli officials to the language some church leaders have been using to characterize the violence in Gaza. On Saturday, Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz issued a series of messages on X objecting to an Oct. 13 statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem which, among other things, called on Israel to allow humanitarian supplies to reach Gaza.
[Note: one of the messages and the statement is below.]
“The only party the patriarchs single out by name with a specific demand is Israel, the party that was viciously attacked a week ago,” Schutz said in one post. “What a shame, especially when this comes from people of God.”
Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State and the pope’s top diplomat, has volunteered the Vatican’s services as a mediator in the conflict, but to date there seems little interest in the offer. After a visit by Parolin to the Israeli embassy to the Holy See on Friday, Schutz called such an idea “premature” in remarks to the German news agency KNA.
“Unfortunately, now is not the time to negotiate,” Schutz said. “We must first fight and win this war.”
On St. Irenaeus and the Glory of God
Just as the traditional mysteries of the Rosary alternate between joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries —
the joy of Christ’s coming into the world,
the sorrow of His arrest, condemnation and execution,
the glory of His triumph through death over death,
(bringing a new universe in about the year 33 A.D.) —
so too the mysteries of this time,
this present time,
this moment given to us,
alternate between the joys of human love, accomplishment, and sacrifice…
the sorrows of our selfishness, cruelty and folly
and the glory the appearance of God’s very being, in men and women who are “fully alive.”
And what is God’s glory?
It is, as St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote some 150 years after Christ’s death and resurrection… man fully alive.
Man fully alive, Irenaeus said, is “God’s glory”…
Because man fully alive is a phenomenon unique in the universe, a being who not only “knows,” but who “knows that he knows” — a being folded in upon himself in a mystery of self-consciousness and complexity which the most complex quantum computer has not yet begun to achieve.
Because man fully alive is capable of love, and healing,
of hope, and acts to dispel despair,
of faith, and of seeing beyond what is visible (beyond what is digital),
of great self-denial and self-sacrifice.
Therefore, a living man is God’s glory, in a universe of galaxies of breath-taking grandeur.
But this “glory,” which is a man fully alive, originates in the vision of God.
The words of Irenaeus, following a long line of Hebrew prophets and Christian thinkers, and reflected upon for 1,850 years in our community of faith by theologians and mystics up to and including Pope Benedict XVI (whom I was privileged to know, and who died just 10 months ago, on the last day of last year) — “For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God” — are a chain of words which express a never-ending, ever-challenging, ever-attracting truth about the ultimate nature of reality itself, and the ultimate reality of our nature, the nature of man, a mortal being who is, in every case, in each of us, a unique and unrepeatable example of personhood, and they are a chain of words also about the nature of God, who dwells “in unapproachable light,” but whose essence and personhood may also be seen in the eyes of the poor and suffering, whom Jesus spoke of as “the least” of His brothers and sisters.
And by this roundabout way, I come again to the sorrow which fills my heart and soul on this October morning in Rome, even as the “Synod on Synodality” (October 4-29) reaches its halfway point, the sorrow of the terrible cruelty and bloodshed in the Holy Land, even as the terrible war in Ukraine continues, and as the leaders of the nations seem to be preparing other battles, other wars, in the future just before us.
No words can express the sadness of the killing of families, children, women, mothers, fathers.
So we pray. We pray that some miracle may bring peace, even as we weep over the cruel violence that we all have seen in images transmitted round the world.
Just at this moment, comes the rain.
The tears of God are falling now over Rome.
We pray for peace. —RM
Here is the text of a tweet put out by the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Raphael Schutz (link) on the night between Saturday, October 14, and Sunday, October 15. The ambassador indicated that he wished for stronger support for Israel from the Holy See and the Catholic Church.
Below are two statements from the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land from recent days, October 7 and October 13.
And here is a link (with the text also below) to an October 11 interview with Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, an Italian Franciscan who has spent his life working in the Holy Land, and who was just made a cardinal by Pope Francis on September 30. He is the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Patriarch Pizzaballa fears long war in Gaza, calls for ceasefire
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, speaks with Vatican Media to express his sorrow and anguish for the outbreak of war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.
By Roberto Cetera, October 11, 2023 (link)
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, is saddened, but not entirely surprised, by the horror taking place in Israel and Gaza, because he himself had long predicted an escalation of tension, though not to this extent.
The new Cardinal, who returned to Jerusalem on 10 October, fears that the war will prove to be very long at least until the Palestinian issue is addressed.
Q: Your Eminence, you managed to return to Jerusalem. What did you see? What are your impressions?
I only managed to get back last night with the help of the civil and military authorities, both Israeli and Jordanian, because I entered through Jordan. I found a frightened country, astonished at what is happening.
I was certainly expecting an increase in violence, but certainly not in these forms, to this extent and with this brutality. I also found so much anger and so much expectation to receive a word of guidance, of comfort, and also of clarity about what is happening. In short, I found a country that has changed a great deal and very quickly.
Q: Do you have specific news about the condition of the Christian community in Gaza?
Yes, everyone is fine. Some families have had their homes destroyed, but they are safe. They are all gathered in the premises of the parish and our school, in the assumption that these are not targeted.
Of course, they are under great strain. They have enough food for some time, but if the siege situation were to continue, it would be a problem. For the time being, we are happy to know that they are all okay and are gathered in the parish premises.
Q: Many comments have pointed out the unpredictability of the events of these hours, but for months you have been pointing out a gradual escalation of violence that could have degenerated into something even more serious, as is happening now.
I was unfortunately an easy prophet. The escalation of the clash was there for all to see. But an explosion of such violence, scale and brutality no one had foreseen.
This, however, puts on the table an issue that had been shelved: the Palestinian question, which perhaps some people thought had been archived.
As long as the Palestinian issue, the freedom, dignity and future of the Palestinians are not taken into account in the ways that are necessary today, prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine will be increasingly difficult.
Q: Your Eminence, I realise that with the fighting going on it is difficult to make predictions, but can you see possible scenarios for the next few hours, for the next few days?
Certainly it is very difficult to make predictions at this time. It is clear that we are not in a military operation, but in a declared war. And I fear it will be a very long war.
Probably the Israeli response will not be limited to bombing but there will be a ground operation. It is clear that we have suddenly entered a new phase in the life of this country and in the relations between Israel and Palestine. If one can speak of relations.
Q: What would you like to say to the international community?
The international community must start looking again at the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian issue with more attention than it has shown so far. And it must work hard to calm the situation, to bring the parties to reasonableness through mediations that are not necessarily public, because public ones will never work.
We need support, to condemn all forms of violence, to isolate the violent, and to work relentlessly for a ceasefire. Because as long as weapons speak, it will not be possible to hear other voices.
[End, interview with Patriarch Pizzaballa]