Catholics in Jerusalem gathered for a prayer vigil on Thursday, Nov. 9, to implore from God the gift of peace for their land and also to affirm that they are ready to be “peacemakers” themselves. The prayer vigil, organized by the Arab Catholic Scout Group, Sabeel Ecumenical Center and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Jerusalem, began just before sunset and concluded by candlelight in darkness. The event took place at the Terra Sancta High School of the Custody of the Holy Land, located in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The prayer was presided over by Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. Hundreds of people — women and men, children and the elderly as well as representatives from all the Christian Churches in Jerusalem — gathered in the school courtyard as one family to pray and to speak together as Christians.
The prayer vigil was introduced by Father Ibrahim Faltas, vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land and director of the Terra Sancta Schools. A series of liturgical prayers followed, and the Gospel of the Beatitudes was read. “You are our freedom, you dry our tears,” the children’s choir sang. Pizzaballa shared some thoughts with those present at the end of a particularly difficult day marked by many casualties — not only in Gaza but also in clashes in the Palestinian Territories.
“The more we count [the number of casualties], the more our hearts become heavy,” he said. “If you think behind each number there’s a face, a name, a person, this is something terrible.” The patriarch emphasized what the Christian attitude should be in this kind of situation.
“First of all, live as a community. There is no space for our little fights. We have to be united and Jesus is the one who unites us,” he said, adding: “Christians also refuse violence. One of the prayers read during the vigil said, ‘Do not be afraid.’ We are not afraid. We don’t allow fear to determine our choices.”
“The world is not going to end! Life will continue and we want to be part of that life, in a positive way, constructive way, despite everything,” he said. “We want to be among those that, when this situation will finish, have something constructive to say. Although the horizon is still hazy and the word peace seems far away, we are here to pray and to deliver everything to Jesus, because his presence is a consolation for us.
With him we also have the strength to live this situation as sons and daughters of God. That’s why we want to say: ‘Yes, Jesus, our hearts are heavy, we do not understand, we have a lot of expectations, but we deliver everything to you, Jesus: Help us to bring together with you all what we have in our hearts.’” The cardinal is in daily contact with the small flock of Gaza’s Christians. As the Israeli Army’s circle tightens on the city, Christians remain refugees in the Latin parish dedicated to the Holy Family.
“Our community in Gaza is experiencing a terrible situation. They lost their houses; they don’t have anything. Every day they don’t know if they will have water, something to eat, and if the bombs will fall on them. Every day they can decide to leave [to the south of Gaza Strip] but their answer is always the same: ‘We stay, because we trust in the providence of God, God will help us.’”
“The risk is getting higher and higher,” Gaza parish priest Father Gabriel Romanelli told CNA at the prayer vigil. “The shelling is getting more intense in the neighborhoods and everything is shaking like a big earthquake.” Romanelli has been outside the Gaza Strip for 40 days without being able to return. He continues to support his community from Jerusalem.
The prayer vigil ended with the lighting of candles and a small procession behind the cross. Attendees placed their candles in braziers set up for the occasion in a second courtyard of the school. In front of these flames, symbolizing the prayer rising to God, Pizzaballa gave the final blessing.