Franciscan Holy Land leaders express views on Middle East conflicts and Gaza ceasefire

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Franciscans leaders in the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa (Custos) and Fr. Peter Vasko (President of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land) recently expressed their views on the brutal conflicts in the Middle East and the tenuous ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land

The Moslem family keeps the generator, and the friars draw water for the entire neighborhood.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, is the head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. He is also Chairman of the Board for the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) which operates under the auspices of the Custody and is responsible for raising awareness in the United States of the needs of the Christian Arabs throughout the Holy Land.

Pizzaballa has been re-elected Custos by his brother friars three times, an event that is rare. They trust him.

Speaking recently at a conference called, “The Power of the Heart,” Fr. Pizzaballa commented at length about the Middle East and changes he has seen over the last year. His full commentary can be found here.

After witnessing firsthand the violence and brutality taking place in the Middle East, Pizzaballa said, “living together has never been easy and there have been persecutions throughout the centuries. But one has not seen a ‘religious cleansing’ of the kind we see today.”

What can be said about the direction in which residents of the Middle East are heading?
The easy answer is that it is unclear, according to Fr. Pizzaballa.

“The Middle East that we have known since the 900’s, one which was born from the ruins of the old Ottoman Empire, from the end of various colonialism and the birth of nation states, is ended. Now begins a new period, the direction of which, however, we are not yet able to comprehend,” he said.

It is not all bad news, however. Pizzaballa made it a point to speak to the solidarity and charity he has witnessed in his travels throughout the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East. One example he gave was of Christians and Muslims working together to provide food and water to each other.

Yet another example he have was of Christians and Muslims sharing generators because of a lack of necessary electricity in cities like Aleppo, Syria. “In our convent, the Terra Sancta College in Aleppo, there is no generator, but the Moslem neighbors have a generator. The neighbors, all Muslim, collect money for the diesel fuel. The Moslem family keeps the generator, and the friars draw water for the entire neighborhood,” said Fr. Pizzaballa.

Force, he believes, is not enough. Neither is a ceasefire more than a way to open a road to peace. A direction of “reconstruction” is what is needed more he said. “The use of force without the consideration of any social, political or economic reconstruction will lead to no other solution than to return to a use of other forces, in a sort of vicious circle. How can we speak of peace, or the prospect of peace, when in your own heart you only have hatred, resentment, pain and revenge because of the violence?”

Hope must be the first thing to be built in order to reconstruct, the Custos said.

Fr. Peter Vasko, ofm, is President of the FFHL and reports directly to Fr. Pizzaballa.

“We hope and pray the ceasefire will succeed,” said Fr. Peter.

Fr. Peter was the founder of FFHL along with the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. He has also served as the president for the twenty years of its existence. He has seen the ups and downs of peace in the Holy Land, just like his superior and friend, Fr. Pizzaballa.

The Brooklyn native is not naive, however. “If it is kept, then it is a first great step towards ending the present conflict in a land filled with mistrust and uncertainties about what the future may hold. If it does not succeed, then we are back to more violence.”

“Our faith, the Bible tells us, assures us of things not yet seen. We have faith and pray for greater faith that peace can reside in each of our hearts here in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East,” the Franciscan remarked.

He said that the agenda topics of easing the Gaza blockade, the eventual disarmament of Hamas and the building of a seaport and airport in Gaza are complex issues and will take “vigorous negotiations”. Still, everyone has moved to eliminate the suffering that has resulted from the fiery conflict.

To view an interview on Guadalupe Radio Network of Fr. Peter Vasko addressing issues in the Holy Land and Middle East, click the following link:

For more information about the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land or for further questions of Fr. Peter Vasko, contact Chris Weldon, PR Associate for the FFHL at cweldon(at)ffhl(dot)org or

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