Home Christian News Pope Francis Condemns Saturday’s Israeli Attack on Christian Church as Act of...

Pope Francis Condemns Saturday’s Israeli Attack on Christian Church as Act of Terrorism

Pope Francis
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In his weekly Sunday prayer service, (Dec. 17), Pope Francis condemned Israeli sniper attacks on a Christian church in Gaza on Saturday that killed two women and wounded many others.

“I keep receiving very grave and painful news from Gaza,” Francis told faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square. “Helpless civilians are victims of bombings and shootings. It’s war, it’s terrorism.” The pope called the international community to strive for peace in the world.

On Saturday, Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar Kamal Anton were shot by snipers as they walked to a bathroom at the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza, where they had sought refuge from the fighting. According to reports by parishioners, the two women were active members of the Christian community.

Seven other people in the church were wounded, according to a statement by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on Saturday. “No warning was given, no notification was provided,” the patriarch’s statement read, adding that the two women “were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the Parish, where there are no belligerents.”

The pope seconded the claim that there were no terrorists in the church, “only families, children, sick and disabled people, nuns.”

The Israeli military said it was “taking the matter seriously” and has opened an investigation into the attack. They claimed that soldiers believed Hamas terrorists had sought refuge in the area of the Christian church.

Earlier Saturday morning, a rocket targeted the convent of the sisters of mother Theresa, where 54 disabled persons reside, the patriarch reported. The building’s generator was destroyed and the convent was rendered uninhabitable, leaving its residents displaced.

“Together in prayer with the whole Christian community, we express our closeness to the families affected by this senseless tragedy. At the same time, we cannot but express that we are at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so as the whole church prepares for Christmas,” the patriarch said.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, led by Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, represents the Catholic community in the Holy Land.

Speaking to Italian media outlets, the Custody of the Holy Land, a Franciscan order charged with overseeing religious sites of historical importance to Catholics in Jerusalem, called the use of force against the church “absolutely unjustifiable.”

In a statement on Saturday, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference reacted to recent events with “great sadness and horror” and called for a cessation of the violence and a commitment to negotiating a peace. “We resolutely join our voices with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminding all parties in this conflict, that war is never the answer but always a defeat. We plead, ‘peace, please peace!’” the statement read.

Francis had previously characterized the violence between Hamas and Israel as terrorism, stating that it had gone “beyond war. It’s terrorism.”

Israeli representatives have balked at the pope’s equating the acts by Israeli forces with those of Hamas militants. Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Raphael Schutz, said the statement by the patriarchate “is to be condemned in the harshest terms as a blood libel,” calling the death of the two Christian women a “terrible mistake.”

This article originally appeared here