Pope Francis decries ‘terrible increase in attacks against Jews’ worldwide

In letter to ‘my Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel,’ pontiff urges prayers for the return of hostages Hamas took on Oct. 7, says ‘we must never lose hope for possible peace’

Pope Francis speaks during a mass at St Peter's basilica for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2, 2024 in The Vatican. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
Pope Francis speaks during a mass at St Peter's basilica for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2, 2024 in The Vatican. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Pope Francis on Saturday condemned the “terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world” and the global rise in antisemitism since the Hamas-led onslaught in southern Israel four months ago and the subsequent Israeli military campaign against the Gaza-ruling terror group.

“We, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world,” the pope wrote in a letter addressed to “My Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel” made public by the Vatican on Saturday.

The war between Israel and Hamas terrorists in Gaza has produced “divisive attitudes in public opinion worldwide and divisive positions, sometimes taking the form of antisemitism and anti-Judaism,” Francis said.

“We had hoped that ‘never again’ would be a refrain heard by the new generations, yet now we see that the path ahead requires ever closer collaboration to eradicate these phenomena,” he said.

He urged prayers “especially for the return of hostages” held by Hamas since the October 7 atrocities and called for Jews and Catholics to promote Israel-Palestinian peace.

“I would also like to add that we must never lose hope for a possible peace and that we must do everything possible to promote it, rejecting every form of defeatism and mistrust,” the pontiff continued. “In times of desolation, we have great difficulty seeing a future horizon where light replaces darkness, in which friendship replaces hatred, in which cooperation replaces war. However, we, as Jews and Catholics, are witnesses to precisely such a horizon.”

“We must act, starting first and foremost from the Holy Land, where together we want to work for peace and justice, doing everything possible to create relationships capable of opening new horizons of light for everyone, Israelis and Palestinians.”

He also said Jews and Catholics “must commit ourselves to this path of friendship, solidarity and cooperation in seeking ways to repair a destroyed world, working together in every part of the world, and especially in the Holy Land, to recover the ability to see in the face of every person the image of God, in which we were created.”

According to Vatican News, the pope’s letter was sent to Karma Ben Johanan, a professor in the comparative religion department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who was recently involved in promoting an appeal to Francis calling to boost Jewish-Christian friendship following October 7.

Karma Ben Johanan (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The letter came after Francis recalled the extermination of millions of Jews ahead of Holocaust Day of Remembrance last week, saying that war can never be justified and only benefits weapons-makers.

“The remembrance and condemnation of that horrific extermination of millions of Jews and of other faiths, which occurred in the first half of the last century, help us all not to forget that the logic of hatred and violence can never be justified, because they deny our very humanity,” Francis said then during his weekly general audience at the Vatican in Rome.

A day earlier, the head of the umbrella group of Jewish communities in Italy, Noemi Di Segni, complained about unnamed Catholic leaders who had “minimized the recognition of what happened on October 7 as a terrorist act compared to the right of Israel to defend itself.” She didn’t name names, but some Jewish leaders have complained about Francis’ initial comments, in which he didn’t identify Hamas by name and complained generally that “we’ve gone beyond war… this is terrorism.”

Francis has subsequently always referred to suffering in both Israel and Gaza, and specifically condemned the October 7 attack, during which Hamas-led terrorists murdered some 1,200 people and kidnapped 253.

In response, Israel launched a massive military offensive aimed at toppling Hamas and returning the hostages. The Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza says over 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza during the war, an unverified figure that does not differentiate between fighters from terror groups and noncombatants.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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