ROME – Pope Francis telephoned U.S. President Joe Biden to discuss the need to identify “paths to peace” in the Middle East and elsewhere, the Vatican press office revealed Monday.
According to papal spokesman Matteo Bruni, the phone conversation, which took place Sunday afternoon Rome time, lasted about 20 minutes.
The White House released its own statement on the call, noting that President Biden spoke with Pope Francis “to discuss the latest developments in Israel and Gaza.”
Biden “condemned the barbarous attack by Hamas against Israeli civilians and affirmed the need to protect civilians in Gaza,” the statement said. “He discussed his recent visit to Israel and his efforts to ensure delivery of food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
The White House said that the two leaders “also discussed the need to prevent escalation in the region and to work toward a durable peace in the Middle East.”
After his Angelus prayer Sunday, Pope Francis told the crowd gathered in Saint Peter’s Square his thoughts had again turned “to what is happening in Israel and Palestine.”
“I am very concerned, grieved,” the pontiff said. “I pray and I am close to all those who are suffering: the hostages, the wounded, the victims and their relatives.”
The pope said that he was concerned about “the serious humanitarian situation in Gaza,” mentioning specifically strikes on “the Anglican hospital and the Greek-Orthodox parish.”
“I renew my appeal for spaces to be opened, for humanitarian aid to continue to arrive, and for the hostages to be freed,” he said, reiterating his mantra that all war “is always a defeat.”
Francis also urged his hearers to join in a day of prayer, fasting, and penance for Friday, October 27, with the intention of imploring “peace in the world.”
Following the pope’s initial statements following the October 7 attack that left over a thousand Israelis dead, the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See issued a statement urging the Vatican to avoid declarations that could suggest equal guilt of victims and perpetrators.
“In these circumstances, the use of linguistic ambiguities and terms that allude to a false symmetry should be deplored,” the embassy said.
“The response of Israel cannot be described as anything other than the right of legitimate self-defense,” the statement continued. “To suggest parallelisms where they don’t exist isn’t diplomatic pragmatism, it’s just wrong.”
More recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen criticized the Vatican’s “tepid” response to the terror attack in Gaza, calling for an “unequivocal condemnation” of the lethal aggression.
Cohen reportedly told the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, that Israel “expects the Vatican to come out with a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the murderous terrorist actions of Hamas terrorists who harmed women, children and the elderly for the sole fact that they are Jews and Israelis.”
“It is unacceptable that you put out a statement expressing worry primarily for Gazan civilians while Israel is burying 1,300 who were murdered,” Cohen said.