Fifty protesters gathered for a “pray-in” in Lafayette Square on Thursday afternoon, holding signs directly facing the White House that said, “Catholics say ceasefire now.”
The Catholic and Christian-led prayer service was meant to urge President Joe Biden, the second Catholic U.S. president, to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Speakers and attendees expressed their disapproval of Biden’s response to the war since it started in early October.
“We’re here as Catholics, Christians to express our position as citizens of the United States, that we have a responsibility to address our decision makers, to let them know our position, our longstanding solidarity with people who are suffering in the Middle East,” said Judy Coode, the communications director at Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace movement.
Pax Christi USA was one of several Catholic and Christian groups sponsoring the service and urging Biden to de-escalate the violence by calling for a cease-fire and the release of the hostages being held by Hamas. The demonstrators sang songs, gave speeches, and handed leaflets to people walking by with instructions on how to call the White House and Congress and demand a cease-fire.
“My faith has taught me that Jesus taught us to love one another. His greatest commandment was to love one another, to love our enemies as ourselves and to put down the sword,” Coode said. “And I think that is how we’re called to live.”
Art Laffin, an event organizer with the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, D.C., said he doesn’t believe in military solutions.
“We hold up Jesus here and his way of nonviolence,” Laffin said. “We’re appealing to President Biden, who’s Catholic.”
Many participants were skeptical of Biden’s recent remarks that he and Pope Francis “are on the same page” regarding Israel’s actions in Gaza.
“We’re very disappointed [with] President Biden, who we know is a devout Catholic,” Coode said. “He stated a week ago that he and Pope Francis are on the same page and that Pope Francis supports what the United States is doing, and we just don’t believe that’s true.”
Paul Magno, a member of the Catholic Worker movement who attended the service, agreed with Coode.
“The Vatican isn’t sending a couple of billion dollars a year in foreign military aid to Israel, but the president is. So, that’s not really the same page,” he said.
Philip Farah, a member of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, said he and most Palestinians have seen family members that Israel has imprisoned, beaten, or killed during the occupation.
“It’s a continuing massacre,” he said.
Laffin said he visited the region several times, forming connections to Israelis and Palestinians committed to peace efforts.
During a visit in 1996, Laffin visited the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, a site the Israeli military recently bombarded with airstrikes.
“The situation was dire in that refugee camp then,” Laffin said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like [now.]”
Michele Dunne, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, said she spent years working for the U.S. State Department on diplomacy and peace efforts “that ultimately failed.” She said she felt more hope 20 years ago about a peaceful two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis than she does currently.
“But still, the answer then is not to just say, ‘Okay, let it be sorted out by violence,’” Dunne said. “Because we know it will not be sorted out by violence, it will just lead to greater and greater conflict.”
Earlier in the week, after being confronted by a rabbi who asked Biden to call for a cease-fire, Biden said there was a need for a “pause” to help release hostages held by Hamas. “I think we need a pause. A pause means: Give time to get the prisoners out.”
Reuters reporting contributed to this article.