Pope Francis made an impassioned appeal Sunday for an end to surging violence in the Holy Land.
Speaking after the recitation of the Regina Coeli May 16, the pope expressed alarm at the Israel-Gaza conflict which has left more than 100 people dead, many of them children.
He said: “In these days, violent armed clashes between the Gaza Strip and Israel have taken hold, and risk degenerating into a spiral of death and destruction. Numerous people have been injured, and many innocents have died.”
“Among them there are also children, and this is terrible and unacceptable. Their death is a sign that one does not want to build the future, but wants to destroy it.”
The pope also lamented intercommunal violence involving Jews and Arabs within Israel.
He said: “Furthermore, the crescendo of hatred and violence that is affecting various cities in Israel is a serious wound to fraternity and peaceful coexistence among citizens, which will be difficult to heal if there is not an immediate opening to dialogue.”
“I ask myself: where will hatred and revenge lead? Do we really think we will build peace by destroying the other?”
He appealed for calm in the region, urging local leaders and the international community to help secure peace.
“Let us pray unceasingly that Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, to be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step by step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers,” he said, before reciting a Hail Mary for the conflict’s victims, especially children.
The pope gave his live-streamed Regina Coeli address at a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where pilgrims stood wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
He reflected on the Gospel reading (Mark 16:15-20) for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, which is celebrated on Sunday in Italy and other countries, but on Thursday at the Vatican.
He said: “Usually, as we know, farewell scenes are sad, they give those who remain a feeling of loss, of abandonment; but this does not happen to the disciples. In spite of their separation from the Lord, they are not disconsolate, on the contrary, they are joyful and ready to leave as missionaries in the world.”
Like the disciples, he said, we too should rejoice to see Jesus ascending into heaven because the Ascension completes his mission among us.
Pointing upwards, the pope said emphatically: “He is the first man to enter heaven, because Jesus is man, true man, he is God, true God; our flesh is in heaven and this gives us joy.”
“At the right hand of the Father now sits a human body, for the first time, the body of Jesus, and in this mystery each of us contemplates our future destination. This is not at all an abandonment; Jesus remains forever with the disciples, with us.”
The pope said that this should give Christians not only a sense of security but also of joy because Jesus promised to send his Holy Spirit.
“Jesus has gone to heaven: the first man before the Father. He left with the wounds which were the price of our salvation, and he prays for us. And then he sends us the Holy Spirit, he promises us the Holy Spirit, to go and evangelize. Hence the joy of today, hence the joy of this Ascension Day,” he said.
“Brothers and sisters, on this feast of the Ascension, as we contemplate heaven, where Christ has ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father, let us ask Mary, Queen of Heaven, to help us to be courageous witnesses of the Risen Lord in the world in the concrete situations of life.”
After praying the Regina Coeli, the pope noted that Sunday was the start of “Laudato si’ Week,” inspired by his 2015 environmental encyclical and organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
He also asked for a round of applause in honor of the German priest Francis Mary of the Cross Jordan, who was declared blessed in Rome on May 15.
“May his apostolic zeal be an example and guide to all those in the Church who are called to bring the word and love of Jesus to every environment,” the pope said, pointing out a group of pilgrims holding a large image of the new blessed and waving white scarves.