Pope meets relatives of Israeli hostages and Palestinians in Gaza and sets off firestorm over words

by Sophia Chen
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Pope Francis Controversy

On Wednesday, Pope Francis had individual meetings with relatives of Israeli captives in Gaza and Palestinians affected by the war, resulting in controversy over his use of terms typically shunned by Vatican diplomats, namely “terrorism” and, as claimed by Palestinians, “genocide.”

The Pope discussed the hardships faced by both Israelis and Palestinians, following these meetings which occurred prior to the announcement of a temporary cease-fire and the Israeli-Hamas hostage agreement. He did not comment on the agreement, a significant diplomatic development since the onset of the conflict triggered by Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on October 7.

In the Vatican, Pope Francis met with 12 family members of the 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for approximately 20 minutes. In a separate session, he also met with 10 Palestinians who had lost relatives or been impacted by the Gaza war, along with their priests.

Following his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke about these meetings. Among the audience were individuals wearing Palestinian scarves and displaying posters with images of bodies in a ditch and the word “Genocide.”

Pope Francis urged the crowd to seek peace, labeling the situation as beyond warfare and akin to terrorism. He also prayed for both Israeli and Palestinian communities to find solutions and avoid destructive passions.

The Pope has been vocal about ending the war, striving to keep the Vatican’s traditional diplomatic impartiality. The Vatican is particularly concerned about the situation of Christians in Gaza.

The initial attack by Hamas resulted in about 1,200 Israeli casualties, while retaliatory strikes by Israel have led to over 11,000 Palestinian deaths, as reported by Palestinian health officials.

Palestinian delegates were impressed by the Pope’s deep understanding of the Gaza situation and claimed he used the term “genocide” in their private discussion, although no journalists were present.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni did not confirm the Pope’s use of “genocide,” stating the Pope’s words at the general audience reflected the dire circumstances in Gaza.

The Palestinian delegation insisted on their account, emphasizing the Pope’s awareness of Gaza’s critical conditions, including lack of water, electricity, and medicine.

Pope Francis is known for his candid remarks, having previously used “genocide” in different contexts, including the Ottoman-era massacre of Armenians and the Catholic Church’s abuses against Indigenous people in Canada.

Israeli families thanked the Pope but wished for more engagement. They were concerned about his use of “terrorism” without specifying the perpetrators, hoping his influence could aid in freeing the hostages.

Evgeniia Kozlova, the Russian mother of a hostage, feared the release deal might delay her son’s freedom. Rachel Goldberg, another Israeli parent, called for international humanitarian aid to check on the hostages’ well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Pope Francis Controversy

Who did Pope Francis meet that caused controversy?

Pope Francis met with relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza and Palestinians affected by the war, sparking controversy due to his use of the terms “terrorism” and “genocide.”

What significant terms did Pope Francis use in his speech?

In his speech, Pope Francis used the terms “terrorism” and, as claimed by Palestinians, “genocide,” which are usually avoided by Vatican diplomats.

What was the reaction of the Vatican spokesman to the Pope’s use of “genocide”?

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni did not confirm Pope Francis’s use of the term “genocide,” but noted that the Pope’s words during the general audience reflected the dire situation in Gaza.

What is the significance of Pope Francis’ meetings in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Pope Francis’ meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian families are significant as they represent the Vatican’s ongoing concern and involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while maintaining diplomatic neutrality.

How did the Israeli and Palestinian families react to Pope Francis’ comments?

Israeli families expressed concern about the Pope’s use of “terrorism” without specifying perpetrators, while Palestinian delegates were impressed by his understanding of Gaza’s plight and claimed he used the term “genocide.”

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