In his Christmas message last year, Pope Francis spoke of how the eyes and hearts of Christians throughout the world turn during the holidays to Bethlehem, where “amid the deep shadows covering the land, an undying flame has been lighted.”
Lamenting the killing of innocents in war, Francis spoke of children whose lives have been devastated by war as “the little Jesuses of today.” He reminded the faithful that the birth of Christ changed the course of history, and that, even as a small child, Jesus, the “prince of peace,” gives us the “power to become children of God.”
Addressing the Israel-Hamas war, the pope spoke of how his “heart grieves for the victims of the abominable attack of 7 October” and reiterated his “urgent appeal for the liberation of those still being held hostage.” He also pleaded for an end to the military operations “with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims” and called “for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid.”
Pope Francis is not alone in praying for peace and healing for the children of Israel and Palestine. All of Utah’s faith communities are acutely aware of the depth of the sorrow and suffering visited upon families in both Israel and Gaza, and recognize the imperative of finding a peaceful resolution to conflicts that have turned the Holy Land into the very tomb of peace itself.
By now, humanity as a whole, particularly in the Middle East, has suffered through enough tragedy and war to heed the pope’s warnings. Rather than seeing one tribe’s existence premised on the extinction of the other, we must recognize and transcend these historical patterns. We cannot look at each other’s children, families and faiths through the carnage visited upon Israel and Gaza. To honor the dead we must guard the sanctity of the living.
In Utah, we are blessed to have a congressional delegation that listens and cares deeply about the pain and anguish inflicted on our brothers and sisters in Israel and Gaza. All of us recognize the grave humanitarian toll and the growing risks of a regional war. Should this conflict escalate, it will claim the life of many more civilians and soldiers, threaten the peace and prosperity of all nations and potentially draw the United States and other powers into a wider war in the Middle East and Europe.
Fortunately, as many of our interfaith and congressional leaders recognize, such a war is not inevitable. Diplomacy can deliver on the promise of peace.
History matters. Were it not for the Camp David Accords, or more recently, the Abraham Accords, Hamas’s terrorist attack and Israel’s military response would have provoked a regional conflagration akin to the 1973 October War. That the Arab world — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and many others — has not embraced Hamas’s leadership or joined Iran’s so-called “Axis of Resistance” is a testament to diplomacy. The Iranian regime, Russia and China have not succeeded in driving a wedge between the United States, Israel and the moderate Arab states. Pax Americana in the Middle East and Europe has not collapsed.
This is not an accident of history. And it is no thanks to the warmongers who perpetuate violence and death. It is because generations of American, Israeli and Arab statesmen have dared to imagine an end to war and have laid down the foundations for an enduring peace.
As a member of Utah’s vibrant interfaith community, I draw enormous strength from the bonds of faith and friendship throughout the Wasatch Front. I know that, like Pope Francis, our political leaders are not blind to the suffering of the children of God. They not only recognize the force of Christ’s example as the “prince of peace,” but America’s role in bringing the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end.
Today, many around the world, including the United States, recognize the urgent need for deescalation. Ending the scourge of terrorism and war does not depend on military victory but on political negotiation — finding a peaceful and permanent solution to the Palestinian question.
But we must lead by example. As an Iranian-American, I know what can happen when fanatics hijack a faith, hold entire nations hostage and equate all that is foul — corruption, crime, terrorism and war — with holiness. For Americans to adopt their inhumane rhetoric, labels and conduct as our own is not the way to address the conflict. It is to surrender the bedrock of faith in exchange for the quicksand of violence.
This moment calls on all of us to engage in compassion that renews our faith in each other’s humanity. As Pope Francis reminds us, what binds Christians, Jews and Muslims to the Holy Land is not hatred and enmity. It is “the joy that consoles hearts, renews hope and bestows peace” — the light of God’s love for all his children manifests as peace and joy within and between nations.
Let us deny the fanatics and extremists what they seek — a perpetual war between Arabs, Israelis and Americans.
Khosrow B. Semnani is an Iranian American industrialist and philanthropist in Salt Lake City, and the author of “Where is My Oil? Corruption in Iran’s Oil and Gas Sector.”