Thirty-three people from two Kenosha Catholic parishes in Wisconsin are currently in the Middle East as a deadly war between Israel and Hamas unfolds, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee says.
In a statement released Monday morning, the archdiocese said the group is "on pilgrimage to the Holy Land," and the group includes two pastors.
None of the parishioners are in Israel itself. The group made it to Jordan, just east of Israel, by Monday morning.
"I’m asking all Catholics and people of goodwill to join me in praying for an end to the violence in Israel, for the souls of all those who have been killed, and for their families. We are also praying for the safe return of those who are in the area on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, including some from Archdiocese of Milwaukee parishes," Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said in the statement.
The two pastors on the trip were identified by the archdiocese as Fr. Roman Stikel, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church, and Fr. Carlos Florez, from St. Mark’s Parish.
Israel's military ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip on Monday, halting deliveries of food, fuel and supplies to its 2.3 million people as it pounded the Hamas-ruled territory with waves of airstrikes in retaliation for the militants' bloody weekend incursion.
More than two days after Hamas launched its surprise attack, the Israeli military said it had largely gained control in its southern towns where it had been battling Hamas gunmen. Israel’s vaunted military and intelligence apparatus was caught completely off guard by Hamas, resulting in heavy battles in its streets for the first time in decades.
Israeli tanks and drones were deployed to guard breaches in the Gaza border fence to prevent new incursions. Thousands of Israelis were evacuated from more than a dozen towns near Gaza, and the military summoned 300,000 reservists — a massive mobilization in a short time, the Associated Press reported.
The moves, along with Israel’s formal declaration of war on Sunday, pointed to Israel increasingly shifting to the offensive against Hamas, threatening greater destruction in the densely populated, impoverished Gaza Strip.
Israel and Hamas have had repeated conflicts in past years, often sparked by tensions around a Jerusalem holy site, the Associated Press reported. This time, the context has become potentially more explosive, and both sides talk of shattering with violence a years-long Israeli-Palestinian deadlock left by the moribund peace process.
This report was originally published by Mary Jo Ola at Scripps News Milwaukee.
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