Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with two distinct groups of relatives affected by the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The meetings, set to take place on November 22 on the sidelines of the pope’s weekly audience at the Vatican, emphasise the pontiff’s dedication to addressing the human toll of the conflict and fostering understanding between different communities.
Hostages in Gaza
The first group Pope Francis will meet consists of relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group responsible for the attack on Israel on October 7. Breaking through Gaza’s militarised border, Hamas took approximately 240 hostages, leading to a tragic loss of around 1,200 lives, mostly civilians according to Israeli officials.
In addressing the plight of these hostages, Pope Francis aims to demonstrate a profound spiritual closeness to those enduring the anguish of having their loved ones held captive. The Vatican spokesperson, Matteo Bruni, emphasised the exclusively humanitarian nature of these discussions, highlighting the pope’s commitment to alleviating the suffering experienced by these families.
Navigating the Aftermath of Conflict
The second group that Pope Francis will meet comprises relatives of Palestinians suffering from the consequences of the conflict in Gaza. Israel, in response to the Hamas attack, initiated a comprehensive air and ground campaign with the intention of “crushing” the militant group. This campaign has resulted in significant casualties, with Hamas reporting a death toll of 12,000 people, including 5,000 children. Hamas has governed Gaza since 2007.
In extending his spiritual closeness to these families, Pope Francis acknowledges the broader impact of the conflict on the Palestinian population. The Vatican’s engagement in discussions with both affected communities signals its dedication to addressing the humanitarian consequences of the ongoing tensions in the region.
A Humanitarian Message
These meetings align with Pope Francis’ consistent advocacy for the sacredness and preciousness of every human life, irrespective of religious or ethnic backgrounds. His recent statement affirming that every human being, regardless of their background, has the right to live in peace encapsulates the compassionate approach the pope takes in addressing the complexities of the Middle East conflict.
As Pope Francis engages with the relatives of both Israelis held hostage by Hamas and Palestinians affected by the conflict, these gestures are anticipated to contribute to fostering understanding, empathy, and, ultimately, pave the way for peaceful resolutions to the complex and longstanding issues in the Middle East.