October 29, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In these times of turmoil and violence in the Holy Land, our hearts are heavy as we witness the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians, caught in a long-standing and complex conflict. Our thoughts and prayers extend to every victim, their grieving families, and all those ensnared in this vicious cycle of violence.

As we come together to celebrate the Eucharist on this 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the liturgical Scriptures profoundly resonate with our current situation, challenging us to live out Christ’s greatest commandment of love, even in the most turbulent of times. In the first reading from Exodus, we are reminded of God’s unequivocal call to protect and cherish the underprivileged (Ex 22:20-26). St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, applauds their faith in Christ and the mutual love it has kindled among them (1 Thes 1: 5c-10). The Gospel of St. Matthew, however, brings us to the core of Jesus’ teaching: to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt 22:34-40). These Scriptures, in harmony, urge us to a love that transcends borders, recognizing the divine image in each person, affirming the sanctity and worth of every human life.

The horrific escalation of violence in the Holy Land, ignited by the ruthless attack by Hamas terrorists and intensified by Israel’s severe retaliatory actions, has caused unimaginable suffering on both sides. The world grieves for the innocent lives lost, the families broken, and the communities ravaged. In the midst of this, many of us find ourselves in a tangled web of emotions and allegiances, further complicated by our polarized global political climate. There is a palpable sense of ambivalence. Many people grapple with the tension of supporting Israel’s right to self-defense while simultaneously empathizing with the Palestinians’ struggles and hardships.

In this, the teaching of Jesus on love and neighborliness becomes not only timely but also profoundly challenging, demanding of us an extraordinary courage. To love amidst conflict calls us to rise above our biases, to acknowledge the inherent dignity in every person, irrespective of their nationality or faith. It is a vehement call to denounce violence in all its forms, recognizing its capability only to perpetuate more violence and its stark contradiction to the Gospel.

As disciples of Christ, we are impelled to condemn violence and uphold justice. This responsibility transcends our personal opinions on the conflict, reminding that Israelis and Palestinians alike are our neighbors, created in God’s image. The command to love our neighbor knows no borders; it is an urgent call to justice, peace, and reconciliation for all.

The situation in the Holy Land is deeply entrenched in history and pain, and it does not lend itself to simple or quick solutions. Yet, we must not lose hope. The teaching of Jesus challenges us to believe in the transformative power of love. Let us pray for the strength to renounce hatred and revenge, choosing instead the path of justice, mercy, and reconciliation.

In Christ’s peace,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham