Francis replies: You are still young but your words are wise

Freed hostage, 9, exchanges letters with pope, asking for help to free captive father

‘It would be better if we played [soccer] together instead of shooting at each other,’ writes Naveh Shoham, recalling grandfather, who took him to games and was murdered by Hamas

Naveh Shoham is seen upon his arrival to Israel after 50 days in Hamas captivity in Gaza, where he was held with his sister Yahel, 3, mother Adi and grandmother Shoshan Haran, 67, on November 25, 2023. (courtesy)
Naveh Shoham is seen upon his arrival to Israel after 50 days in Hamas captivity in Gaza, where he was held with his sister Yahel, 3, mother Adi and grandmother Shoshan Haran, 67, on November 25, 2023. (courtesy)

Released hostage Naveh Shoham and Pope Francis have exchanged heart-wrenching letters, in correspondence that began when the nine-year-old sent the head of the Catholic church a letter asking for help in securing the release of his father and the other hostages still in Gaza.

Shoham, whose father Tal is still being held captive by Hamas, wrote to the Pope, telling him about his family and how the terrorist organization’s brutal October 7 massacre in southern Israel affected them, the Ynet news site reported on Sunday.

“One part of my family comes from Germany, and the other from Austria. After my family had to flee from the Nazis, one of my grandfathers was actually born in Argentina like you,” he wrote in the letter, first published by Ynet, adding that his grandfather speaks Spanish.

He told the Pope about his “great passion” for soccer and how he loves practicing with his father and his friends, adding that he used to go to games with his grandfather, Avshal, who was among some 1,200 people who were murdered on October 7.

“I found out on the internet that you are a passionate supporter of San Lorenzo de Almagro in Argentina. Then you will surely understand the joy I always had with my grandfather at the stadium,” Shoham wrote.

Turning to the October 7 attack, he said that his “world was turned upside down” when Avshal was murdered along with Shoham’s aunt, disabled uncle and his caregiver, and he was taken hostage together with his younger sister, mother, grandmother, aunt and cousin.

Pope Francis waves from the popemobile as he arrives for the weekly general audience on June 5, 2024 at St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican. (Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

“My father was also abducted on that day and he is still held captive there. My heart aches with sadness, I miss my father and fear for him,” he wrote.

“I also think about my grandfather a lot. He is gone, I will never hug him and play football with him again and we will never again go to a match together.”

Shoham shared his dreams with the Pope for after the war, saying that he wants to attend soccer games again.

“I want to buy an extra ticket so that I can have an empty seat for my grandfather Avshal next to me. This way, he will be with me at least in my thoughts. I am already saving from my allowance for this,” he wrote.

He also told the Pope that his family has a “table of hope” at home where they light candles and pray for Tal’s wellbeing and release.

“I also often think about the children in Gaza and wish the war would stop. When I was there, I asked my mother if the children in Gaza also play [soccer] and if she thinks I can join them. But unfortunately, that was not possible then. But still, I think it would be better if we played [soccer] together instead of shooting at each other,” Shoham ended before asking the Pope to continue working for the release of the remaining hostages and for peace.

Naveh and Yahel Shoham were taken captive from Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, 2023 and released 50 days later as part of a hostage deal. (courtesy)

In his response, the Pope thanked Shoham for sharing his story with him and told him that his words had touched him deeply.

“Spiritually I stand with you at the ‘table of hope’ that you have set up in your home and I pray that God will grant eternal rest to your grandfather, Avshal, and to your aunt, your uncle and his nurse. I pray with you especially for your father, Tal, and I sincerely hope that you will soon be able to embrace him again,” he wrote.

He also wrote that he had enjoyed reading the part of Shoham’s letter about the Gazan children.

“You are right when you say that it would be better to play [soccer] together instead of shooting at each other. You are still young, but your words are wise. I wish that the great and powerful of this world would think like you!” he wrote.

Shoham told Ynet that he didn’t know if the Pope would respond to his letter when he sent it but that he had hoped he would.

“When his reply arrived, I was happy and excited,” he said, adding that he had sent his letter because he thought it might help get the hostages back.

Tal Shoham (courtesy)

He added that the idea had come from the adults in his family but that he had volunteered to write the letter and “thought a lot about what to write so that he would believe me.”

Speaking to Channel 12 News on Sunday, Tal’s brother, Mor Korngold, said that “nothing could make up for the fact that a nine-year-old has been forced to put his basic need for his father into words.”

He added that the only thing he found comforting about the correspondence was Naveh had received a response and that it had been “sensitive.”

“But a response and sensitivity aren’t enough,” he said, adding a plea for the rest of the world to stand behind Israel and back a hostage deal that would secure the release of the remaining hostages.

The Shoham family was among 251 hostages taken by Hamas on October 7. They were released without Tal in November during a week-long ceasefire that was part of a hostage deal that saw the return of 105 hostages.

It is believed that 116 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after four hostages were released prior to the November deal. Seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

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