40 days ago, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prayed for peace, along with the Pope at the Vatican. Since then, stalled peace talks deteriorated further into another bloody conflict, which has claimed the lives of at least 240 people, largely Palestinians.
As Israel launched a ground offensive at the Gaza Strip against Hamas militants, Pope Francis called both Peres and Abbas by phone. According to a Vatican statement, the Pope expressed his concern for ongoing hostilities, and the suffering of innocent victims.
The Pope asked both leaders to continue praying for peace. But, he also invoked greater commitment from "interested parties and those who hold political office,” to reach a cease-fire.
Despite his direct appeal, it's unclear what effect his phone call will have on the ground. Peres holds a largely ceremonial post, and steps down as president on July 27. Meanwhile, Abbas and his Fatah party have been sidelined in the conflict, with rivals Hamas calling the shots in Gaza, and declining an Egyptian-backed truce.
Amid the Israeli offensive, Pope Francis also reached out to the priest of the Sacred Family parish, Gaza's lone Catholic church. According to the Fides news agency, several families, including children and the elderly have taken refuge inside.
In his message to Argentine parish priest Fr. Jorge Hernandez, the Pope expressed his closeness "to you, to the sisters, and to all the Catholic community.” He added that he's praying for them, and invoked Our Lady for protection.