04/03/2024, 15.12
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Pope expresses ‘deep regret’, calls for ‘ceasefire' after aid workers killed in Gaza

At the general audience in St Peter's Square, Francis spoke about the seven aid workers from World Center Kitchen NGO killed by an Israeli drone in the Gaza Strip. In his address, the pontiff renewed his call for humanitarian aid to the Gazan population. He also showed a rosary and a New Testament that belonged to a Ukrainian soldier who died in the "folly of war". His weekly catechesis to the faithful centred on the virtue of justice.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis spoke again this morning about the war in the Middle East during his weekly Wednesday general audience in St Peter's Square.

"Unfortunately, sad news continues to arrive from this region," the Pontiff said. “Let us pray and work tirelessly for weapons to be silenced and for peace to reign once again.” To this end, he said: “I reiterate my firm call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip."

Coming in the wake of the strong appeal he made in his Urbi et Orbi Easter message, invoking "the path of life in the midst of death, today’s appeal was dedicated to the seven workers of the World Center Kitchen NGO killed yesterday by an Israeli drone.

“I express my deep regret for the volunteers killed while engaged in the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza," the Holy Father said.

The aid workers, who came from Great Britain, Poland, Australia, and Palestine, lost their lives in Deir el-Balah as they travelled in three cars from a warehouse where they had delivered tonnes of food for the civilian population.

As a result, World Center Kitchen has suspended its operations in Gaza. “I pray for them and their families,” Francis said.

The tragedy, which has provoked an international outrage, underscores the importance of providing aid to Gazans who have been under extreme pressure for months.

“I renew my appeal for the exhausted and suffering civilian population to be given access to humanitarian aid, and for the hostages to be released immediately,” the pope said once more.

At the same time, the pontiff urged the parties to “avoid all irresponsible attempts to broaden the conflict in the region.”

This request comes the day after unconfirmed reports blame Israel for the death of General Mohammad Reza Zahedi and his deputy Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi killed in an airstrike against the Iranian consulate in Damascus.

“May efforts be made to end as soon as possible this and other wars, which continue to sow death and suffering in so many parts of the world," Pope Francis said in his special greetings in Italian before the audience.

Another part of the world that is suffering, one the pope never ceases to mention, is “tormented Ukraine”. Again, he urged the faithful not to forget the country weighed down by the war that began in February 2022, but above all the people who have died in the past two years.

“I hold in my hands a rosary and a book of the New Testament left by a soldier who died in the war. This boy was called Oleksandr, Alexander, and he was 23 years old,” Francis said, showing the two objects to the many faithful gathered in St Peter's.

“Alexander read the New Testament and the Psalms, and in the Book of Psalms he had underlined Psalm 130,” the pope explained. “Out of the depths I call to you, Lord, hear my cry!”

The young man, who hailed from Bakhmut and died in Avdika, “had his life ahead of him. And this is his rosary and his New Testament, which he read and prayed. I would like us to take a moment of silence, all of us, thinking about this boy and many others like him who died in this folly of war.”

Upon hearing these words, a veil of silence descended upon the crowd standing in front of the main basilica. Then, the Holy Father said: “War always destroys! Let us think of them, and let us pray.”

The catechesis read at the start of the audience was part of a cycle of in-depth studies undertaken in the latest general audiences centred on “Vices and virtues”.

Today's topic was justice (Pr 21, 3.7.21), “the quintessential social virtue," Pope Francis noted. “It is the virtue of law, that seeks to regulate the relations between people equitably.”

Symbolically justice is represented by scales, which contribute to an equilibrium between human beings, especially when imbalances do not seem to make it possible. Their “purpose is that in society, everyone is treated in accordance with the dignity proper to them,” the pope said.

"Without justice, there is no peace,” Francis added, for “if justice is not respected, conflicts arise. Without justice, the law of the prevalence of the strong over the weak is entrenched, and this is not just.”

Justice is not only about big events, inside the courtroom, but also about "small scale” things, about “the ethics that characterize our daily lives.”

The righteous person is in fact the one who “is upright, simple and straightforward; he does not wear masks, he presents himself for what he is, he speaks the truth,” the pope explained.

Ultimately, “The virtue of justice makes it clear – and places this need in the heart – that there can be no true good for oneself if there is not also the good of all.”

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