By CINDY WOODEN, Catholic News Service | Published July 10, 2014
VATICAN CITY (CNS)—Pope Francis telephoned Rome’s chief rabbi to personally express his sadness over the murder of three kidnapped Israeli teens whose bodies were found June 30 in Hebron, West Bank.
Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni said the pope phoned him at home late in the afternoon July 1 and said: “Good evening. This is Pope Francis. I wanted to personally express my sadness for the death of the three youths.”
The rabbi told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper he was surprised since the Vatican press office had already published a strong statement condemning the murders of the boys who were kidnapped in mid-June and conveying the pope’s condolences.
During their phone conversation, he said, the pope asked if there was anything he could do.
“It was an informal conversation, very human. He’s an extraordinary man,” the rabbi said.
Rabbi Di Segni also told Il Messaggero that he had been working with Vatican officials to arrange a meeting at the Vatican between Pope Francis and the families of the three kidnapped boys as part of the effort to generate international pressure for their release.
Pope Francis told the rabbi his willingness to meet the families and embrace the boys’ grieving mothers had not changed.
Meanwhile, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem condemned political and religious leaders who, he said, were fanning the desire for revenge.
The three teens were kidnapped as they were hitchhiking home from their school in Gush Etzion, a cluster of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, near Bethlehem. Israeli officials accused Hamas, which recently formed a coalition government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of being responsible for the abduction. Abbas condemned the kidnapping.
After the bodies were found, a 17-year-old Palestinian male was found murdered July 2 in a forested area on the outskirts of Jerusalem in apparent retaliation.
“Vengeance begets vengeance and blood begets blood,” Patriarch Twal said. “The innocent young people murdered, all murdered young people, are victims sacrificed on the diabolical altar of hatred.”
In the original statement conveying the pope’s condolences, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, called the killings “terrible and dramatic.”
“The assassination of innocent people is always an execrable and unacceptable crime and a serious obstacle on the path toward the peace for which we must tirelessly continue to strive and pray,” he said.
Patriarch Twal called on political and religious leaders to act to calm the atmosphere.
“After all the hope of the pope’s visit we are passing a very dramatic situation worse than others,” he said. “I don’t know where this cycle of violence will lead us to. Peace is worth making a sacrifice for; it is worth supporting each other for more peace, for more justice. We can’t continue like this.”
“We still pray, we still hope, we still believe in the beautiful message of the pope and the beautiful prayer of the pope,” Patriarch Twal added. “I hope the international community will have the courage to say what is just is just and what is wrong is wrong.”
Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem contributed to this story.