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Pope Francis receives relatives of Israeli and Palestinian victims: ‘This isn’t war anymore, this is terrorism’

The pontiff asks to ‘pray a lot for peace’ at his weekly public audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican

Papa Francisco
Pope Francis at the audience he holds with the faithful every Wednesday in St. Peter's Square.ALESSANDRO DI MEO (EFE)

Pope Francis has been sending messages for weeks to both sides of the conflict between Israel and Palestine to try to tone down the belligerence. On Wednesday morning, the pontiff decided to go a step further and receive two delegations at the Vatican: relatives of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas, and relatives of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel under the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After the meeting, at the public audience held on Wednesdays, Francis surprised everyone with a resounding statement about his vision of the conflict: “Here we’ve gone beyond war. This isn’t war anymore, this is terrorism,” he said.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis meets with Israeli relatives of hostages at the Vatican on November 22, 2023. VATICAN MEDIA (via REUTERS)

The Catholic leader’s statements are striking because they include under the category of terrorism both the attacks by Hamas and the action of the Israeli army in Gaza. This is a comparison that, in public at least, most of the international community is avoiding, particularly those actors who are trying to provide some type of help in the mediation process. The pontiff alluded to the conflict at the end of his audience in an improvised speech. “Let us not forget to persevere in prayer for those who are suffering because of wars in so many parts of the world, especially for the beloved people of Ukraine and Israel and Palestine.”

The Vatican had worked in recent days to facilitate today’s meeting between the Pope and the Israeli and Palestinian delegations. Although the details of the visit were finalized earlier, the meeting has taken place right after the agreement between the government of Israel and Hamas for the release of 50 hostages in the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a four-day truce. “Please, let us go ahead with peace. Pray for peace, pray a lot for peace,” said the pope.

The Vatican has also tried to mediate in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but so far it has not achieved much. The government of Ukraine is upset at Pope Francis for not taking sides regarding the Russian invasion. Last August, he also angered the Kyiv government when he praised Russia’s imperialist past.

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