Christian leaders say they fully recognize the intense suffering that surrounds the Holy Land, as well as in many other parts of the world, as the faithful mark Holy Week.

“[We] repeat our denunciation of all violent actions in the present devastating war, especially those directed at innocent civilians, and we reiterate our calls for an immediate and sustained ceasefire,” reads the message from the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in the Holy Land.

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed over 32,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and driven a third of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation.

It was launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed around 1,200 people.

After nearly six months of war, Gaza’s health sector has been nearly destroyed, with only a dozen hospitals partially functioning in the region of nearly 2.4 million people.

The message from the patriarchs also renews a plea for the speedy distribution of humanitarian aid; the release of all captives; the unimpeded access of fully-equipped doctors and medical staff to tend the sick and injured; and the opening of internationally facilitated negotiations aimed at ending and moving beyond the present cycle of violence.

“Only in this way, we believe, can a comprehensive solution be finally advanced for a just and lasting peace here in the land where our Lord sacrificed his life, breaking down the dividing wall of enmity, in order to offer the world the hope for reconciliation,” the message reads.

“While extending this Easter message to Christians and others around the world, we offer our special greetings to those of the faithful in Gaza who have been bearing especially heavy crosses over the past several months,” the Christian leaders say.

The message specifically notes those taking refuge inside St. Porphyrios and Holy Family churches, as well as the staff and volunteers of the Anglican-run Ahli Hospital, along with the patients they serve.

Israel has alleged that hospitals serve as command centers, weapons storage facilities and hideouts for Hamas. The Islamist group has denied the allegations.

Speaking during his homily for Holy Thursday Mass in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said the war, “with its burden of violence and hatred, suffering and death, makes celebrating this feast difficult.”

“Yet, Easter is never truly easy, unless we reduce it to an ancient rite, a mere religious feast among others. If what we mean by feast is only a moment of rest, a moment of merriment which makes the grayness of daily life more bearable, then yes: Undeniably, this year there is little or no room for lightheartedness and leisure, while there is plenty of room for sorrow and tears,” he said.

“If instead Easter is the celebration of Christ’s passion and resurrection, if it makes the passage from death to life real for us here and now, then it is not only this Easter that is difficult, but it is Easter itself that is always difficult,” the cardinal continued.

Pizzaballa said the circumstances in which Christians in the Holy Land were celebrating this Easter are not so different from those of the Lord’s Passover.

“As then, so today, the desire for peace is too often confused with the need for victory. As then, so today, the way of Barabbas seems more convincing than that of Jesus,” he said.

“Like the disciples on that supreme and dramatic night, we too are lost and confused. Sadness tempts us with an irenic slumber and with losing the courage of the parrhesia. Without this courage we are unable to allow ourselves to be wounded by another person’s pain,” the cardinal continued.

“Alternatively, like Peter, we too are tempted to take up the sword, to strike, and to be overpowered by feelings of violence and rejection, which only lead to death. Worse yet, we run the risk of betraying the Master by devaluing His message and prophecy by forsaking the grace of forgiveness and self-giving, which leads to true life,” he said.

Pizzaballa noted the painful circumstances of the present period make leisure difficult, on the other hand, they paradoxically increase our awareness and help Christians to enter the Paschal Mystery.

“It is a difficult mystery, not so much because of the difficulty of the dogma, but because of our difficulty in welcoming it and living it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the top United Nations International Court of Justice on Thursday ordered Israel to take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including opening more land crossings to allow food, water, fuel and other supplies into the area.