Pope Francis meets with families of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza

Pope Francis meets with families of the hostages taken by Hamas on Wed., Nov. 22, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2023 / 12:21 pm (CNA).

It’s been 47 days since Moshe Leimberg’s wife and 17-year-old daughter were taken hostage by Hamas.

“We haven’t seen or heard anything since. It’s been 47 days. And I’m alone. Every day I wake up … and I wait a minute or two for the familiar sounds that I’m used to hearing and there’s nothing,” Leimberg said at a press conference in Rome on Nov. 22.

“My family has been taken and my life is not what it was and it never will be again.” 

Leimberg was one of 12 family members of hostages being held in Gaza who met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday morning.

In a separate meeting on the same day, the pope also met with 10 Palestinians, some of whom had family members die in air strikes on Gaza.

Pope Francis’ meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian delegations occurred as news emerged that a four-day cease-fire agreement had been reached in which Hamas agreed to free at least 50 of the roughly 240 hostages taken in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“I know that my son is not part of this exchange,” Evgeniia Kozlova told journalists after meeting the pope, noting that she does not know how long she will have to wait to hear if her child will ever return home.

Rachel Goldberg, whose only son was kidnapped at the Nova Music Festival on Oct. 7, said that she hopes that the meeting with the pope will help bring more attention to hostages who are still waiting to be freed. 

“I think that the Holy Father has a lot of influence in the entire world. Aside from the 1.3 billion Catholics that certainly revere and respect him, I think he’s very respected in the Muslim world, in the Jewish world, really, irrespective of religious background. And so I think when he speaks, the world really listens,” Goldberg told EWTN News.

“The hostages come from almost 30 different countries. They span in age from nine months to 87 years old … and so this issue of the hostages is really a global humanitarian catastrophe and needs to be treated as such.”

Goldberg’s son, Hersh, was celebrating his 23rd birthday at the music festival when Hamas fighters attacked and threw a grenade at the roadside bomb shelter where he had taken cover. Video footage shows that his arm was blown off during the attack.

“We have since seen a video … of him and these two other boys being marched out of the bomb shelter and put onto a Hamas pickup truck, which then headed toward Gaza,” she said. “My heart has been buried in Gaza.”

Goldberg said that she felt “embraced” by the pope and believes that “he will do everything he can to help us.”

Other Israelis said that they felt hurt that the pope did not spend more than 20 minutes with the group and did not have time to listen to the stories of each of the 12 family members, hearing only from about seven or eight people in the delegation.

Yehuda Cohen, whose daughter was part of the delegation that met the pope, called the meeting with Pope Francis “disappointing.”

“The meeting should have been long enough for people to speak,” he said. “We came all the way from Israel here to meet him.”

Pope Francis’ meeting with the Palestinian delegation was also only about 20 minutes.

The pope spoke about his experience meeting the two groups during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“This morning I received two delegations, one of Israelis who have relatives as hostages in Gaza and another of Palestinians who have relatives suffering in Gaza. They suffer so much and I heard how they both suffer. Wars do this, but here we have gone beyond wars, this is not warfare, this is terrorism,” Pope Francis said.

“Please, let’s move forward for peace. Pray for peace. Pray hard for peace,” he said. “We pray for the Palestinian people, we pray for the Israeli people, that peace will come.”

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