Pope Francis on Wednesday met separately with Israeli relatives of hostages held in Gaza and of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, saying both sides “suffer so much”.
At the end of his weekly audience at the Vatican, the 86-year-old pontiff called for prayers for peace, saying of both groups: “They suffer so much and I heard how they both suffer.”
“Wars do this, but here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war, this is terrorism,” he added, without specifying whether he was referring to the October 7 attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas, Israel’s military operation in Gaza launched in response, or both.
The Vatican said last week the pope hoped to show his “spiritual closeness” during the private meetings, which it said would be “exclusively humanitarian in nature”.
Rachel Goldberg, whose 23-year-old son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was kidnapped by Hamas, told a press conference after the meeting that the pope “has a lot of influence”.
“He’s very respected in the Muslim world, in the Jewish world, really irrespective of religious background. So I think that when he speaks the world really listens,” she told journalists in Rome.
The delegation was calling for the Red Cross to be allowed access to the hostages and “we feel the Holy Father has the influence in the world to make those things happen”, she said.
“I felt his love and his support and I believe he will do everything he can to help us,” said Goldberg, who added that her son had been seriously injured during his capture.
She was among 12 families of hostages represented in the meeting with the pope.
Israel and Hamas announced a deal on Wednesday allowing at least 50 hostages and scores of Palestinian prisoners to be freed, while offering besieged Gaza residents a four-day truce after weeks of all-out war.
“I’m not counting hostages being freed in this deal until I see them walk over the border and see them embraced safely,” Goldberg said.
Hamas gunmen carried out on October 7 a cross-border attack, the worst in Israel’s history, that left around 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians, according to the Israeli government.
Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups also took an estimated 240 Israelis and foreigners hostage, among them elderly people and young children.
In retaliation, Israel launched a major bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, which the Hamas government said has killed 14,100 people, mostly civilians and thousands of them children.