Pope’s Controversial Meeting with Hostage Relatives and Palestinians Ignites DebateNovember 22, 2023
Pope Francis meeted with relatives of Israeli hostages in Gaza and Palestinians living through the war and set off a firestorm using words that Vatican diplomats usually avoid: “terrorism” and, according to the Palestinians, “genocide.” Francis didn’t refer to the Israeli-Hamas hostage deal and a temporary halt in fighting. He met at the Vatican with relatives of some of the 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Francis spoke about the meetings at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square. He also asked for God to help both Israeli and Palestinian people. The Vatican is particularly concerned about the plight of Christians in Gaza. The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said he didn’t believe that Francis used that term. “He used the terms he used during the general audience and regardless represent the terrible situation that Gaza is living,” Bruni said. The Israelis thanked Francis for receiving them. They also questioned his use of the term “terrorism” without saying who had committed it. Members of the Palestinian delegation said they were stunned by Francis’ deep knowledge of the war. Francis often causes diplomatic kerfluffles with his off-hand comments. Evgeniia Kozlova, the Russian mother of 27-year-old Andrey Kozlov, expressed her fears about the hostage-release deal. Rachel Goldberg urged Francis and the rest of the world to work for all the hostages to be released.