Pope Francis decried antisemitism, war and terrorism in a written speech that he shared on Monday. Francis initially met with European rabbis in the Vatican and was scheduled to give the speech but said he was “not well” and declined to read it.
“Yet again violence and war have erupted in that Land blessed by the Most High, which seems continually assailed by the vileness of hatred and the deadly clash of weapons,” Francis wrotev in the speech, describing Israel’s war with Hamas that has now seen thousands of casualties on both sides since Oct. 7.
Francis, 86, also addressed a wave of antisemitic protests, vandalism and general criticism of Israel that has been on the rise in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria and other countries.
He said his first thought and prayers goes “above all else, to everything that has happened in the last few weeks,” referencing the Israel-Hamas war and the subsequent humanitarian crisis in Gaza. “The spread of antisemitic demonstrations, which I strongly condemn, is also of great concern,” he added.
The pontiff said believers in God are called to build “fraternity and open paths of reconciliation for all.”
“Good morning. I greet you all and I welcome you and thank you for this visit, which greatly pleases me,” he told a delegation from the Conference of European Rabbis, Reuters reported.
“Let’s think about the children, all the children involved in this war.” — Pope Francis
“But it happens that I am not well and because of this I prefer not to read the speech but give you a copy,” the pope said, skipping the speech and setting off a brief health scare.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified in a statement later that Francis was experiencing “a bit of a cold” and provided the distinguished guests the written speech.
“Pope Francis has a bit of a cold and a long day of audiences,” Bruni said, per Reuters. “He wanted to greet the European rabbis individually and so he gave them his written speech. The remainder of his activities continues regularly.”
On Sunday, the pontiff called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, saying the current humanitarian crisis remains “very grave” for Palestinians who are still in Gaza.
“Stop in the name of God, cease the fire” — Pope Francis
“Let’s think about the children, all the children involved in this war, like in Ukraine and in other conflicts, their future is being killed,” he told a crowd in St Peter’s Square after his weekly Angelus prayer, according to Reuters. “I hope that all will be done to avoid the conflict from widening, that the injured will be rescued and aid will arrive to the population of Gaza, where the humanitarian situation is very grave.”
“I keep thinking about the grave situation in Palestine and Israel where many people have lost their life. I pray you to stop in the name of God, cease the fire,” he added.
Francis has previously said a two-state solution was necessary to ending the current Israel-Hamas war and achieving peace in the region.
The Pope’s written comments on Monday come as countries around the country have seen spikes in antisemitic displays and protests.
Many of the protesters have “threatened and targeted Jewish and Israeli individuals and institutions worldwide,” according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which reported rises of antisemitic incidents by hundreds of percent in several countries.
In the United States, there were 312 antisemitic incidents between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23, a nearly 400% rise year-over-year, ADL reported.
A major protest took place in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, when thousands of people marched around the White House and Capitol Hill to show support for Palestinians. One person was arrested.
In the U.K., the Jewish community’s security organization, CST, reported there were 893 antisemitic incidents from Oct. 7-31 — a 609% increase compared to the same 25-day period in 2022.
In Germany, antisemitic incidents saw a 240% increase in the past few weeks. In Austria, there were 76 antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7 — a 300% increase. In France, the Minister of Interior reported there have been 819 antisemitic incidents and 414 arrests since Oct. 7.
The current Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, when Hamas, a terror group that governs Gaza, invaded the Israeli border and slaughtered more than 1,400 people in Israel. In the near one month since the start of the war, the Gaza Health Ministry has reported over 10,000 Palenstinians have been killed and more than 1.4 million people have been displaced from their homes. Thousands on both sides of the conflict have been injured and hundreds of people taken from Israel into Gaza are still missing.