Vatican City (AsiaNews) - At today's Angelus, Benedict XVI issued another anguished appeal for peace in the Gaza Strip, as news was coming of the unilateral ceasefire by Tel Aviv, violated this morning by Hamas, followed by a heavy Israeli response to the missiles of the radical Islamic movement. "I follow with profound trepidation," the pope said, "the conflict in the Gaza Strip. Let us also remember today before the Lord the hundreds of children, elderly, women, the innocent victims of the unprecedented violence, the injured, those mourning their loved ones and those who have lost their possessions." So far, more than 1,100 people have been killed in Gaza, more than a third of them children. This morning, the bodies of about one hundred children and other civilians were found beneath the rubble from the bombardments.
The pope then called for prayers for all of those trying "to stop the tragedy."
"In this sense," he continued, "I renew my encouragement to those who, on both sides, believe that there is room for everyone in the Holy Land, so that they may help their people to rise again from the rubble and from the terror, and, courageously, return to dialogue in justice and truth. This is the only path that can truly reveal a future of peace for the children of this beloved region!"
Before this, Benedict XVI had emphasized the value of the Day for migrants and refugees, which is celebrated today. The pope recalled the "variegated" situation of immigrants: "serene and well integrated," "difficult," and often "dramatic." "I would like to confirm," the pontiff added, "that the Christian community looks at every person and every family with attention, and asks St. Paul for the strength for a renewed effort in order to foster, in every part of the world, peaceful coexistence between men and women of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions."
This year, the pope has chosen St. Paul as a model for migrants, he who was himself a "migrant and apostle of the Gentiles," who became an "'ambassador' of the risen Christ in order to make him known to all, in the conviction that in him all peoples are called to form the great family of the children of God."
Benedict XVI exhorted Catholics to strive, like the apostle, to proclaim the Gospel and care for people from other countries, "using the phenomenon of immigration as an opportunity for an encounter of civilizations. Let us pray and act so that this may always take place in a peaceful and constructive way, in respect and dialogue, preventing any temptation to conflict and exploitation."
Among all the migrants, Benedict XVI recalled in a special way sailors and fishermen, who suffer every sort of abuse: they go without pay, are forbidden to go ashore after months of work, undergo cruel violence and even death at sea without any help for their families. "In addition to the usual difficulties," the Pope added, "they suffer restrictions in regard to going ashore and bringing chaplains aboard, and face the danger of piracy and the harm of illegal fishing. I express my closeness to them and my hope that their generosity, in activities of aid by sea, may be repaid with greater consideration."
Finally, the pontiff recalled that today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will conclude next January 25, when the pope together with the heads of the other Christian communities will celebrate vespers in the basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls.
The theme this year, suggested by a Korean group, is "That they may become one in your hand" (Ez. 37:17).
"In a special way," Benedict XVI concluded, "I address the Catholics scattered throughout the world so that, united in prayer, they may not tire of working to overcome the obstacles that still obstruct full communion among all the disciples of Christ. The ecumenical effort is all the more urgent today, in order to give our society, marked by tragic conflicts and lacerating divisions, a sign and an impulse toward reconciliation and peace."