VATICAN CITY — Expressing his sorrow for those who have lost their lives, Pope Francis Wednesday called for peace and dialogue in the Middle East, which has faced increased violence during the transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“I am very worried and distressed by the escalation of tensions in the Holy Land and in the Middle East and by the spiral of violence that is increasingly moving away from the path of peace, dialogue and negotiations,” the Pope said May 16.
Speaking at the end of the general audience, Francis expressed his sorrow for the dead and wounded, saying he is “close with prayer and affection to all those who suffer” and repeating that violence does not lead to peace.
“War calls war; violence calls violence,” he said. “God have mercy on us!”
Deadly protests along the Israel and Gaza border over the last seven weeks escalated Monday, after Israeli troops opened fire on protesting Palestinians, resulting in 58 dead and another 2,700 injured, most from sniper fire, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Eight children under the age of 16, including an 8-month-old baby, were among Monday’s dead.
The conflict coincided with the United States’ inauguration of its first embassy in Jerusalem, a controversial move, which Palestinians have taken as U.S.-backing of Israeli control of the city.
Pope Francis Wednesday invited “all the parties involved and the international community to renew their commitment so that dialogue, justice and peace prevail.” He also led Catholics in praying a Hail Mary to ask for the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace.
In his catechesis for the weekly audience, Pope Francis concluded his commentary on the sacrament of baptism with reflections on the symbolism of the white garment and baptismal candle.
These items make visible the invisible spiritual effects of the sacrament, he said, noting how the white garment reminds us of St. Paul’s words: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
St. Paul goes on to explain, the Pope said, that to “have clothed” one’s self with Christ means to live and cultivate virtue.
Again quoting the words of St. Paul, he said: “Clothe yourselves with sentiments of tenderness, of goodness, of humility, of meekness, of magnanimity, enduring each other and forgiving one another. But above all these things, clothe yourselves with charity, which unites them in a perfect way.”
Pope Francis also explained that the baptismal candle reminds us that the Light of the World is Jesus Christ, “who, having risen from the dead, has conquered the darkness of evil.”
“We are called to receive [the candle’s] splendor!” he said. “As the flame of the paschal candle gives light to individual candles, so the love of the Risen Lord inflames the hearts of the baptized, filling them with light and heat.”
Francis explained that in the early years of the Church, baptism was also called “illumination,” and the newly baptized were called the “illuminated,” following Jesus words that he is “the Light of the World; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
“To always walk as children of light, persevering in faith,” as it says in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, is the Christian vocation, the Pope said.
He also emphasized the right of children to a Christian education and the responsibility of parents and godparents to provide this and to nourish in children the baptismal graces, helping them to persevere in the faith.
Concluding his reflection, Pope Francis quoted a line from his latest apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, telling Christians to “let the grace of your baptism bear fruit on a path of holiness. … Do not be discouraged, because you have the power of the Holy Spirit so that it is possible.”