Cardinal says innocent citizens are caught in a 'vice of conflicting ideologies'

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said he is “deeply shocked” after visiting areas of Gaza devastated by the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

The Archbishop of Westminster toured neighbourhoods flattened by shelling and air strikes as well as visiting a hospital and an orphanage.

Cardinal Nichols told the Guardian newspaper: “I was deeply shocked at the effects of war and endemic poverty.

“Pope Francis has said there must be an end to war, and when you see the effect in a place like Gaza it reinforces that.”

During his visit Cardinal Nichols celebrated a Mass for Gaza’s Catholics and visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial. The cardinal travelled to the Holy Land with 100 pilgrims who visited Bethlehem, while he went to Gaza.

The cardinal described Gaza as “a deeply depressing situation in a devastated region where people are trapped”.

He said there was little sign of rubble being cleared in the area. “It’s astonishing the number of people with the appearance of nothing to do – people just sitting on the streets. There is only the barest sense of order. This is not an economy that is going to be able to support its population.”

The cardinal added that he was worried about “the innocent citizens of Gaza caught in a vice of conflicting ideologies – an almost impossible situation for them”.

Cardinal Nichols has visited Palestinian Christians several times before. After a visit two years ago he wrote to William Hague, then Foreign Secretary, expressing concern about Israel’s security barrier and its effect on people’s lives.

At a Christmas Eve homily he prayed for “over 50 families [who] face losing their land and their homes” thanks to the barrier.

Photos of Cardinal Nichols’s Gaza visit can be viewed here.