Holy Innocents: Mourning 8,000 Children Killed in Holy Land Since October

BY ISN STAFF | December 28, 2023 | en español

EDITOR’S NOTE: A group of ecumenical partners in Bethlehem shared the following with ISN. The group coordinated a prayer service today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to honor the 8,000 children lost in the Holy Land since October 7, 2023. Nearly 7,800 of the children were members of families living in Gaza.

The Franciscan pastor of the host parish introduces the event, linking the 8000 child victims of this 2023 Gaza War and the Holy Innocents slain by King Herod.

These 8,000 olivewood hearts represent 8,000 children killed in the Holy Land since October 7th, nearly 7,800 of them living in Gaza. This is the human cost of war and the choice not to end war. This is what 8,000 hearts look like – what do 8,000 children look like?

On the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Church mourns the children killed by King Herod in his enraged search for the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1-18). Today in Bethlehem, Christian faith communities came together to mourn the children killed by this ongoing war, innocent victims of conflict, and long injustice.

Catholic parishes across the United States, including a number of Ignatian Solidarity Network member parishes, have joined with other Christian congregations to support the Bethlehem-area olivewood artisans who carved each of the 8,000 wooden hearts. The artisans have been otherwise largely jobless since the war began in October due to the lack of tourism. The faith communities will also receive wooden hearts to commemorate the lives of the 8,000 children through prayer and action in their own communities. 

Two children from the Roman Catholic parish in Bethlehem place an olivewood heart representing a child killed in the Holy Land since October 7 during the ecumenical prayer service. Nearly 7,800 of the children were members of families living in Gaza. [PHOTO CREDIT: Cécile Lemoine]

Each of these handcrafted 8,000 hearts represents a child’s life. Each of these 8,000 hearts represents a call to prayer and a call to action. They will soon be headed to homes and to Capitol Hill with questions attached: How am I raising my voice for peace, for change, for justice? How can we stop this? How can we keep this from happening again? Where and how can love work through me? 

Liturgy like this refuses to give darkness the final word. Liturgy like this gives our response to these questions the final word. Placing each heart on the white burial cloth in prayer is a way of saying, “I remember,” “I care,” and “I’m bringing you with us” towards whatever step we take towards peace and justice, where and how we can, alone or – like today – together.

View VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS of the prayer service here.

Additional images provided to the Ignatian Solidarity Network from the prayer service organizers: