International News

Catholic Patriarch Offers to Be Exchanged for Hostages Held by Hamas

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, poses for a photo while speaking to reporters at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2023. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

by The Tablet Staff 

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Amid the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war, a top Catholic leader in the Middle East said he would be willing to trade places with Israeli children who have been among those taken hostage by Hamas terrorists.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, mentioned this idea during an Oct. 16 video conference with journalists in Italy. 

“I am ready for an exchange, anything, if this can lead to freedom, to bring the children home. No problem. There is total willingness on my part,” he said, according to a Catholic News Service report. 

The 58-year-old Church leader stressed that the first thing to do “is to try to win the release of the hostages” to stop the escalation of fighting that began Oct. 7 when the militant Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,300 people. According to news reports, between 150-200 people are currently being held hostage, including children and elderly people. 

Cardinal Pizzaballa told reporters that his office had not had any contact with Hamas leaders and added: “You can’t talk to Hamas. It is very difficult.”

In retaliation for the Hamas attack, Gaza authorities said the Israeli bomb strikes have killed more than 2,750 Palestinians and wounded nearly 10,000 while another 1,000 people are missing. Israel also cut off food, electricity, fuel, and water supplies to Gaza.

The cardinal said about 1,000 Christians were sheltering in church buildings in northern Gaza after their homes were destroyed in Israeli strikes.

He also told reporters that supplies are beginning to run short. The cardinal stressed that through various contacts the Catholic Church in the region has been trying to get provisions such as medicine, water, even generators, to those who need it.

U.N. agencies and aid groups have also been urging Israel to allow emergency deliveries of fuel and other supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Pope Francis has also emphasized this need. After praying the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 15, he said it is “urgent and necessary to ensure humanitarian corridors and to come to the aid of the entire population” in the Gaza region. 

He also said he continues to follow “with great sorrow what is happening in Israel and Palestine,” and called once more on Hamas to release the hostages they claim to be holding. 

“I strongly ask that children, the sick, the elderly, women and all civilians not be made victims of the conflict,” the pope said.