The new cardinal who is head of all Latin Catholics in the Holy Land said he is willing to become a hostage of Hamas if that meant that children now being held by the terrorist organization be returned to their families in Israel.
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said Monday that he is “totally available” to participate in a hostage exchange with Hamas, which invaded Israel October 7. A report emerged on Monday that the number of hostages Hamas had taken was 199, significantly higher than what had initially been reported. The militants have said that it will kill one hostage every time Israel targets a civilian site in the Gaza Strip. Israel has been bombing Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip and is planning a ground invasion.
“Bring the children home”
During a video conference with journalists on October 16, Cardinal Pizzaballa was asked if he’d be willing to be exchanged for children who are being held hostage.
“Am I ready for an exchange? Anything, if that can lead to freedom and bring those children home, no problem,” he said. “There is an absolute availability on my part.”
The cardinal, whose jurisdiction as Latin Patriarch includes Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Cyprus, said he has not had any direct communication with Hamas since the attack on Israel on October 7. He and other church leaders in the Holy Land have called for a day of prayer and fasting for Tuesday, October 17.
Diplomatic tight rope
The cardinal’s remarks come in the wake of some diplomatic controversy between Israel and the Holy See. On October 7, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, a body that includes Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Christian leaders, issued a statement calling for “ the cessation of all violent and military activities that bring harm to both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.”
The Israeli embassy to the Holy See, in response, complained of “linguistic ambiguities and terms that allude to a false symmetry.”
“To suggest parallelisms where they don’t exist isn’t diplomatic pragmatism, it’s just wrong,” the Israeli embassy said.
Late last week, the Christian leaders spoke of “a new cycle of violence with an unjustifiable attack against all civilians,” and called upon Israel to allow humanitarian supplies to reach Gaza.
Israel has imposed a siege of the strip, cutting off water, food, fuel, electricity and medicines.
Raphael Schutz, the Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See called the Christian leaders’ new statement “unfair, biased and one-sided.”
“What actually happened was that the ‘circle of violence’ (typical false symmetry expression) started with an unprovoked criminal attack by Hamas + Islamic Jihad (the Patriarchs refrain from mentioning their names) murdering more than 1300 Israelis and from other 35 nationalities,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.
“They also raped women, burned babies, beheaded people and took hostages. Simultaneously they launched a wide range missiles and rockets attacks against centers of civil population in Israel – cities, towns, villages, kibbutzim,” Schutz said. “The only party the patriarchs single out by name with a specific demand is Israel, the party that was viciously attacked a week ago. What a shame, especially when this comes from people of God.”
Pope Francis on Sunday called for a humanitarian corridor to allow vital goods and services into Gaza. But he also issued a new appeal for the release of hostages taken by Hamas.
Also weighing in was Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, who late last week described Hamas’ attack as “inhuman.”
While both Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself militarily, Parolin called for proportionality in the nation’s response to the attack, expressing concern for civilian casualties in Gaza due to bombings. He said last Saturday that a truly just peace requires a two-state solution, “which would allow Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side in peace and security.”