Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the primate of the Church of England, has joined Catholic and Orthodox leaders worldwide in calls for a ceasefire after Israel destroyed a Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza.The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, believed to be the third oldest church in the world, was damaged in an Israeli airstrike on Thursday that killed two relatives of former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash and more than a dozen other people sheltering inside.
Welby visited St. George’s College, an education center of the Anglican Communion in Jerusalem, and met with other Christian leaders to express solidarity with Palestinian Christians, according to a news release shared by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem.
The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem is an ecumenical council of leaders in the Christian faith that includes the heads of the Greek Orthodox Church, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, among others.
Meanwhile, Pierbattista Pizzaballa — the head of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem seated in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — made additional comments to Italian Catholic television TV2000.
“Let’s hope that reason returns to those who make decisions,” Pizzaballa said. “War and bombs have never solved problems; on the contrary they always create new ones.”
Meanwhile, the Orthodox Christians who were sheltering in the Gaza church are now seeking refuge in the neighboring Holy Family Catholic parish church.
Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople who is considered the figurehead of Orthodox churches worldwide, held a call with Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III after the blast, according to a news release from the church.
Even Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church who has supported President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, criticized the attack on the Greek Orthodox Church in a letter to Theophilos.
“It was with deep sadness that I learned about the numerous casualties and serious destruction that occurred in the temple complex of St. Porphyrius as a result of the fighting in the Gaza Strip,” Kirill said in his letter.
“From the bottom of my heart, I sympathize with Your Beatitude, the members of the Holy Sepulcher Brotherhood and all your God-loving flock, and I express my sincere condolences to the relatives of the victims. May the Lord give peace to the souls of the departed, may he comfort their relatives in their sorrow, may he grant speedy healing to the injured and wounded.”
In the news release, the church leaders said they condemn “in the strongest possible terms” the Israeli air strike that hit the church “without warning.”
“These blasts led to the sudden and catastrophic collapse of two church halls around the scores of refugees, including women and children, sleeping within,” the statement reads.
“Dozens found themselves instantly crushed beneath the rubble. Many were injured, some severely. At least 18 people have died, nine of whom were children.”
The church leaders also condemned Israel for its “ceaseless military demands to evacuate our charitable institutions and houses of worship” and called on both warring parties to obey the international rules of warfare in remarks apparently pointed at Hamas, the Gaza militia Israel considers a terrorist group.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to minister to the most vulnerable. And we must do so not only in times of peace,” the statement reads. “The church must especially act as the church in times of war.”
The news was covered by Vatican News, the press arm of the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church. Welby shared the Vatican News article on Twitter, another sign of Christian solidarity. Pope Francis separately expressed his concern “for all those who are suffering” as he equated the situation to the war in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the IDF has admitted to attacking the Al-Ansar Mosque in Jenin, claiming that the holy center was used a “execute terrorist attacks against civilians.” Photos from Gaza show entire communities demolished by Israel’s ongoing blitz.