Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, 75, of Assisi, Italy. In sorrow over the tragic violence in the Holy Land, he, like Cardinal Pizzaballa of Jerusalem, has expressed a willingness to offer himself as a hostage in exchange for the freedom of the more than 200 Israelis taken hostage on October 7 by Hamas, if it would help to end the violence…

    Letter #149, 2023, Thursday, October 26: Sorrentino

    Italian Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, 75, the bishop of Assisi, Italy (link) — the city of the great saint of peace, St. Francis (1181-1226) — has just expressed a desire to offer his own freedom in exchange for the freedom of the more than 200 Jewish hostages taken prisoner in Gaza by the Hamas organization on October 7.

    In a long interview published today in the Rome daily Il Messaggero (link), Sorrentino expresses his sorrow over the war in the Holy Land, and, as a concrete gesture to open a possible way to peace, he is making the same offer made a few days ago, on October 16, by the Cardinal Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 58 (himself a member of the Franciscan order, link): that, if it would help to bring an end to the violence, Bishop Sorrentino, too, would be willing to offer himself as a hostage in place of the dozens of Israeli citizens taken hostage three weeks ago, when the violence erupted.

    Here below is the full text of this interview, in our own English translation.

    Also, tomorrow, October 27, is the 37th anniversary of the day in 1986 when Pope John Paul II called together many of the religious leaders of the world for a “Day of Prayer for Peace” in Assisi. (link) —RM


    The bishop of Assisi willing to offer himself in exchange for the Israeli hostages: “Heaven willing we could do something”

    Domenico Sorrentino: “The Holy See has declared itself available to mediate: the hope is that it will be taken into consideration”

    by Franca Giansoldati, Il Messaggero (link)

    Thursday 26 October 2023, 10.48am – Last update: 10.55am

    On the 19th day of captivity of the over 200 Israeli hostages, from the town of Assisi, a universally known land of peace, an offer is made by Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, a man of great faith, theologian and with a long experience in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State: if it would serve to “unblock” the situation and free the Israeli children, women and young people in the hands of Hamas since 7 October, he too is willing to offer himself in exchange, exactly as Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballaproposed last week.

    “In the face of so much pain, I believe there would also be a few heroic people willing to give themselves up as a substitute hostage,” Sorrentino said. “As a Christian and a pastor, I myself feel this desire.”

    An option dictated by the heart, spes contra spem [“hope against hope”] even if the bishop knows “that it would not resolve: Hamas has played with ferocious dexterity, in this inhuman terrorist action, the hostage card.”

    In a long interview with Il Messaggero, Sorrentino appears dismayed by this latest piece that is being added to the “piecemeal Third World War” that Pope Francis has warned about many times.

    In Assisi you opened a beautiful Museum of Memory to remember the “righteous” who helped so many Jews during the Second World War…

    Bishop Domenico Sorrentino: Heaven willing, we could do something. Here, especially around the Museum of Memory which commemorates the rescue of Jews in the years of the Shoah, we have many friends of the Jewish religion, in Italy, and also in Israel and the United States. I was impressed that, speaking with some of them — people of openness and dialogue — at this moment they too did not offer any support for a possible compromise: the reaction must be harsh and strong, it is a question of erasing the “evil.” It’s understandable, but how sad. How will we build a bridge?

    The hostage issue obviously cannot fail to have priority over any reaction. How to manage it is a double-edged sword.

    On the one hand, the fact that Hamas does not release them inflames the hearts of Israelis even more, perhaps pushing them towards angry revenge.

    On the other hand, not releasing them forces the Israeli reaction to relative moderation, postponing the land invasion over time and therefore also suggesting postponing the release.

    In the meantime, the bombings still cause many deaths which do not spare the civilian population, not all of whom can be identified with Hamas.

    A dead-end, then?

    Sorrentino: We really need an international authority capable of mediating, accepted by the two parties, who unfortunately at the UN simply face each other with mutual accusations of responsibility. The Holy See has declared itself available: the hope is that it will be taken into consideration.

    What do you expect as a man of faith?

    Sorrentino: I would like – but I don’t see it – for there to be explicit and clear condemnation of the unspeakable attack from the Palestinians and the Arab world.

    And I would also like, on the part of the Israelis, a calm reflection, not without the capacity for self-criticism, on how to organize their long-term security policy by taking sincerely and wisely into account the Palestinian demands that complain of historical abuses to their detriment.

    Will we return to the perspective of two peoples and two states, according to the UN proposal?

    A really tangled knot. All we have left is prayer.

    Thirty-seven years have passed since Wojtyla and all the leaders of religions, including the Dalai Lama, arrived in Assisi on 27 October 1986 for peace. John Paul II then said: “Even if there are many important differences between us, there is also a common ground from which we can work together in the solution of this dramatic challenge of our era: true peace or catastrophic war?” Would a meeting like this work today?

    Sorrentino: All processes have their cycles. There may be a radiant dawn, then clouds that gather, finally the return of clear skies. The human world is like this. But peace remains an irrepressible yearning. And therefore we must always try again.

    Pope Wojtyla’s initiative was unique, also because it was the expression of the new way, sanctioned by the Council, of approaching other religions in a friendly manner. This act was already an event of peace. Since then, inter-religious meetings have multiplied, and it is now clear to everyone that the fundamentalisms that indulge in terrorism and murder have nothing to do with religion.

    A historic message of hoped-for brotherhood with the Muslim world was signed in 2019 in the United Arab Emirates by Pope Francis. What is its scope?

    Sorrentino: The Abu-Dhabi document, signed by the Pope and the great Imam Ahmad al-Tayyib, states this without ambiguity. If in the past there may have been a misunderstanding open to warmongering even in the biblical-Christian tradition, today an irreversible step has been taken in understanding God as the God of peace. Prayer, therefore, can and must unite the souls of all believers in the imploring of peace. It also serves to extinguish the misunderstandings of the past. In any case, to be authentic, it requires a commitment to building peace.

    This means many concrete things. At the level of relations between nations, the issue of “political” intelligence inevitably opens up in taking steps marked by prudence, foresight and healthy diplomacy, to obtain the maximum possible peace effect in a given historical moment. If the Holy See also takes this into account, it should not be surprising. It is not a question of giving in to moral compromise, but of pursuing that diplomatic effectiveness that helps reconciliation processes. The value to be pursued is a peaceful world order and to this end even small steps, well studied, but never against justice and law, are important.”

    In this period two wars of aggression, the Russian one against Ukraine and the other unleashed with Hamas’ terrorism against Israel: from a moral, theological point of view, do those attacked have the right to defend themselves?

    Sorrentino: They certainly have it, but how to defend yourself is not of little importance.

    Defensive war, similarly to individual legitimate defense, is permitted, but on condition that the defensive aspect prevails over the feelings and gestures of pure vengeful reaction and leads to a minimum of destructive effects on human beings, both of one’s own side and of the opposing side. . Ideally, and morally, one should defend oneself without killing.

    We know how difficult it is, especially in an era in which armaments have reached unprecedented destructive force to the point of nuclear catastrophism. I am not an expert to say how “surgical” interventions really are, those that only touch truly dangerous enemies.

    From what I see, the lethal effects on civilians and the collateral effects of destruction are always more extensive than what biased propaganda wants us to believe. The fact remains — as the Pope says — that war is always “a defeat.” It leaves ruins, mourning and tears.

    Years ago there was talk, at least in some cultural and religious groups, of “non-violent defense.” It has become an unfashionable topic, but I don’t think it was pure utopia.

    Today the maximum we reach is the principle of “proportionate” defense. Where is the border?

    I hope that those responsible for deciding will take note that the pain with which acts of war are perceived produces at least an effect of hatred that lasts for generations. We sow the seedbed of other conflicts that are always ready to explode. Looking at future effects also enters into the evaluation of the right to defend oneself and the way of defending oneself.

    Many wonder why there has always been so much hatred towards Jews…

    Sorrentino: The reasons are many, and also well-studied, from religious to cultural, economic, etc. The Jewish religious “difference,” embodied in the Bible and in the millennial experience of the Jews, has often been provocative for religious tendencies and totalitarian policies or even simply for cultures with a total and intolerant tendency.

    In the Christian world, for centuries, the negative judgment regarding the choices of the Jewish authorities in killing Christ has also weighed heavily. A choice that was attributed tout court to the Jews. And it was a profoundly wrong judgment.

    Today, from Vatican II onwards, we are in a completely different climate.

    For me, speaking with Jews means speaking with brothers, and in a double capacity, also due to the sharing of our religious roots.

    Jesus was a Jew. At this moment I also feel their suffering as my own.

    Monsignor (Giuseppe) Nicolini (1877-1973, bishop of Assisi from 1928 to 1973, link) who here in Assisi personally risked his life, and not only him but also other religious and lay people, to save around 300 Jews, felt the same. Myriam Viterbi, one of the “little girls” saved at the time, and who recently died in Jerusalem, told me that she felt Assisi like a hug. How beautiful it would be if this embrace reached the Jews today, but also the Palestinians. Too much pain for both the former and the latter…

    Can religions play a role of moral suasion in international affairs or do they count for almost nothing?

    Sorrentino: With the advance of secularism, and with the de-Christianization of the Western world, they certainly count less in terms of political influence. But “less” does not mean “nothing”: there are still institutional and cultural elements of religions that have weight, in one sense or another, in politics.

    But certainly religions are not as influential as in the past, obviously excluding the power of prayer, for us who have the grace to believe.

    But the current state of the world is so complex, with problems of violence, injustice and changing geopolitics, that at least people of good will cannot help but feel nostalgic for a shared ethic and law. We need to rebuild them. In this, religions, although sociologically minority and theologically divergent, possess a traditional wisdom that still makes them great sources of inspiration from which to draw. Politics and economics today are rediscovering, in some way, ethics, just as they are rediscovering the concept of blessedness.

    Who benefits from a world of unhappy people? It does not seem that the world without religion has become happier. Sooner or later, we will think about this fact…

    What spiritual initiatives does Assisi propose to the world?

    Sorrentino: Every month we have a moment of prayer that we share with our brothers and sisters of other religions, focusing on a conflict situation. This month, obviously, on the situation in Israel.

    But it is also the month in which we carry out various reflection initiatives and on the anniversary of October 27, 1986, the day that gave life to the “spirit of Assisi.”

    In the prayer that, in communion with the initiative taken by the Holy Father, we will do in the Refectory of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, there will also be a Jewish and a Muslim representation. Even in its smallness, it is a signal. Let’s hope we get more signs of hope, and not new scenarios of desperation.

    [End, interview with Bishop Sorrentino]

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