by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA 2023 Teacher of Peace
Dark and cold we may be, but this is no winter now.Adapted from “A Sleep of Prisoners” by British poet Christopher Fry.
The frozen misery of centuries begins to move…
Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to face us everywhere.
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men and women ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
These lines came to mind on reading the recent pastoral letter of Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is the kind of statement that the whole world, particularly Christians, expect from our spiritual leaders, all too often expectations met with deafening silence on the part of those very leaders. In this case the cardinal’s words carry exceptional power as they follow on his offer to give himself as a hostage to Hamas in exchange for the release of Israeli children. This stunning offer reminds one of heroes like Saint Maximillian Kolbe, who in 1941 volunteered to die in place of a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz.
The letter’s starting point is a “word that has its origins in the Gospel of Jesus: ‘render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar…’ Looking to God, we therefore want first of all to render to Caesar what is his”. That is, a clear-eyed assessment of the current horrendous moment in Israel/Palestine.
The cardinal states “what happened on October 7 in southern Israel is in no way permissible and we cannot but condemn it… there is no reason for such an atrocity.” Then he says that his conscience leads him to condemn with equal clarity the new cycle of violence… that has brought to Gaza “tragedies that cannot be understood and which we have a duty to denounce and condemn unreservedly.”
Then, Pizzaballa lays out what every fair-minded person instinctively understands: “That it is only by ending decades of occupation and its tragic consequences, as well as giving a clear and secure national perspective to the Palestinian people that a serious peace process can begin.”
The letter moves to reflections, which must be a part of a statement from a person of faith – particularly a person like Cardinal Pizzaballa who is called to prominent Christian discipleship [and from leaders of all religious traditions]. Faith in God and in our case faith in the Risen Christ call for a word beyond social analyses – a word of consolation, inspiration and above all hope at a time like the present.
This the cardinal offers in detail and with utter clarity. Basing his reflections on the account of Jesus discourse to his disciples at the Last Supper, he dedicates fully 12 paragraphs of his letter to what is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) This setting is entirely appropriate. Jesus is facing “the time for the powers of darkness” which that same evening will begin.
These reflections on this moment in Jesus life, which Pizzaballa says “we need like the air we breathe” are worth reading in full. They speak from a wellspring of faith to the current tragedy when the powers of darkness seem to reign.
A single admonition to the disciples on Jesus’ part is the basis for this segment of the letter: “I have told you [these things] so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have tribulations, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33)
The cardinal recalls that “Jesus won, not with weapons, not with political power, not by great means, nor by imposing himself…. He won the world by loving it… It is on this that we stake our faith today… Such peace, such love require great courage.”
These words mark the only pathway to overcoming the downward spiral of violence that besets not only the Holy Land but everywhere that armed conflict rages.
Photo of Cardinal Pizzaballa from EpiskopatNews (Polish Episcopal Conference); CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the 2023 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.