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Words for a time of tragedy and sorrow

The global community is deeply shocked by what has taken place in Israel and Gaza. Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured, and buildings, homes and livelihoods destroyed. Deeply mindful of the anguish, sorrow, pain, heartache, despair, grief, loss, uncertainty, fear and anger – including here in communities in Australia.

Another son is killed, Another daughter dies,
And loving, waiting homes are filled with loved ones’ cries.
As rivers never sleep, so wars flow on and on.
Hang up your harps, sit down and weep for those now gone!


We grieve for children lost, for hearts too sad to pray;
We mourn, O Lord, the growing cost of hatred’s way.
And sure as threats increase and anger turns to war,
We pray that we may find a peace worth struggling for.


(Words: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette)

Words may offer comfort and solace. Words can also be divisive – by intent, accident or oversight. Words matter, so as not to fuel further division, or cause hurt, or disregard lived experience.

The words below from church leaders focus on the intentionality to pursue peace – even in the face of violence, anger and despair. They may be words that offer a way to navigate a time of such immense tragedy and sorrow.

Statement by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Light of the Tragic Events in the Middle East (Sunday, October 8th, 2023)

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) calls upon all Christians and people of faith to pray for peace – not an empty peace devoid of justice, equality, and hope for all people, but a deep, lasting, and just peace that addresses core systemic issues of the conflict, from Palestinian needs for self-determination and freedom to Israel’s needs for safety and security.
Read more here.

A statement by Pope Francis
Pope Francis has called for attacks to cease as he prays for peace in Israel and Palestine. “Please stop the attacks and the weapons and understand that terrorism and wars do not lead to any solution, but only to the death and suffering of so many innocent people. War is always a defeat! Every war is a defeat!”
Read more here.

A prayer for peace in Palestine and Israel

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain...”
Isaiah 11:9

God of Comfort,
send your Spirit to encompass all those whose lives
are torn apart by violence and death in Israel and Palestine.
You are the Advocate of the oppressed
and the One whose eye is on the sparrow.
Let arms reach out in healing, rather than aggression.
Let hearts mourn rather than militarize.
God of Justice,
give strength to those whose long work for a just peace
might seem fruitless now. Strengthen their resolve.
Do not let them feel alone.
Show us how to support their work and bolster their courage. Guide religious leaders to model
unity and reconciliation across lines of division.
Guide political leaders to listen with their hearts as they seek peace and pursue it.
Help all people choose the rigorous path of just peace and disavow violence.
God of Love, we lift up Palestine and Israel
– the people, the land, the creatures.
War is a monster that consumes everything in its path.
Peace is a gift shared at meals of memory with Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Let us burn incense, not children.
Let us break bread, not bodies.
Let us plant olive groves, not cemeteries.
We beg for love and compassion to prevail
on all your holy mountains.
God of Hope,
we lift up the cities of the region: Gaza City and Tel Aviv,
Ramallah and Ashkelon, Deir El Balah and Sderot,
so long divided, yet so filled with life and creativity.
Come again to breathe peace on your peoples
that all may recognize you.
God of Mercy,
even now work on the hearts of combatants
to choose life over death, reconciliation over retaliation,
restoration over destruction.
Help us resist antisemitism in all its forms,
especially in our own churches.
All people, Israelis and Palestinians,
deserve to live in peace and unafraid,
with a right to determine their future together.
God of the Nations,
let not one more child or elder be sacrificed on altars of political expediency.
Keep safe all people from unjust leaders who would exploit
vulnerability for their own distorted ends.
Give wise discernment to those making decisions to pursue peace.
Provide them insight into fostering well-being, freedom, and thriving for all.
Teach all of us to resolve injustices with righteousness, not rockets.
Guard our hearts against retaliation, and give us hearts for love alone.
Strengthen our faith in you, O God of All Flesh,
even when we don’t have clear answers,
so that we may still offer ourselves nonviolently
for the cause of peace. Amen.
(prayer by Rose Marie Berger, a senior editor of Sojourners magazine, October 9th, 2023)

A Prayer for Palestine and Israel
God of peace, God of justice, God of love, we pray for Israelis, Palestinians, and all the people living in Palestine and Israel.
We grieve for the violence that has broken out.
Comfort all who mourn for those killed in Israel and in Gaza. Work healing in all who are injured.
Turn all people from overt violence.
Guide leaders and people to work to end the ongoing violence of occupation.
Draw the people to live together.
Show the world how to be helpful.
Speed the day when justice rolls down for all, allowing peace to finally prevail in the land so many call holy, the land where Jesus, in whose name we pray, walked and taught of peace. Amen.
(Prayer by Rev. Mark Koenig)

A reflection by Rev Dr John Squires, Minister in the Uniting Church in Australia and editor of With Love to the World.