Jerusalem Patriarch offers to be exchanged for Gaza hostages
Staff Reporter - October 2023
The Catholic Church’s top official in the Holy Land has expressed his willingness to exchange himself for the children taken hostage by Hamas terrorists and being held in Gaza.
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa made the offer on October 17 as officials around the world worked to free those kidnapped amid an imminent Israeli ground assault.
The cardinal, Pope Francis’ representative in the Holy Land, made the heartfelt, though unofficial, offer in response to a question during a video conference with journalists in Italy.
“If I’m available for an exchange?” Pizzaballa responded. “Anything, if this could bring about the freedom of children, no problem. My absolute willingness.”
More than 3,600 people have been killed since Hamas launched its attack against Israel on October 7, leading to military action from Israeli forces. Hamas is also believed to be holding at least 199 people, including children, hostage in Gaza.
“The first thing to do is to try to win the release of the hostages, otherwise there will be no way of stopping (an escalation). We are willing to help, even me personally,” the cardinal said.
He stressed, however, that he and his office had not yet had any direct contact with Hamas, the militant Islamist group.
“You can’t talk to Hamas. It is very difficult,” he said.
About 200 people were taken hostage and about a dozen of them are believed to be children.
Cardinal Pizzaballa oversees Catholic activities in Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as Jordan and Cyprus, a region which is home to an estimated 300,000 Catholics.
Diplomatic efforts have been intensifying to get aid into Gaza as Israel prepares a ground invasion to destroy Hamas.
Authorities in Gaza said at least 2,750 people had so far been killed by the Israeli strikes, a quarter of them children, and nearly 10,000 wounded. Another 1,000 people were missing and believed to be under rubble.
Cardinal Pizzaballa said that about 1,000 Christians were sheltering in Church buildings in northern Gaza after their homes were destroyed in Israeli strikes.
“They don’t know where to go because moving is dangerous,” he said.
Israel has urged exhausted Gazans to evacuate to the south, which hundreds of thousands have already done in the enclave that is home to more than 2 million people. Hamas, which runs Gaza, has told people to ignore Israel’s message.