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Gerard O’ConnellOctober 15, 2023
Israeli soldiers inspect the burned cars of festival-goers near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Oct. 13, 2023, at the site of an attack on the Nova Festival by Hamas gunmen from Gaza. (OSV News photo/Amir Cohen, Reuters)Israeli soldiers inspect the burned cars of festival-goers near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Oct. 13, 2023, at the site of an attack on the Nova Festival by Hamas gunmen from Gaza. (OSV News photo/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

A well-known veteran Israeli TV journalist reported that Pope Francis suggested in a telephone conversation with him that “a companion of mine” (“compañero mio”) could have been among the victims of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in southern Israel. The story was first broken this morning by ANSA, the Italian state news agency.

The journalist, Henrique Cymerman, who has known Francis since he interviewed him for Israeli TV before his visit to the Holy Land in 2014, said the pope phoned him on Oct.14 to express his closeness to him and to the Israeli people after the massacre by Hamas.

Francis did not say whether this “compañero” was in fact among those killed, injured or taken hostage.

Mr. Cymerman said he told the pope that there were many Argentines among the victims, to which Francis replied: “I know, I know, and a companion of mine could surely have been among them.”

Although Francis did not say whether this “compañero” was in fact among those killed, injured or taken hostage, the story circulated in Israel that he may be among those taken hostage. But there is no independent verification for this claim.

Mr. Cymerman’s entire conversation with the pope, which was conducted in Spanish, was filmed by a third party. He later released the video recording on social media. Asked by Elisabetta Piqué (my wife), who is in Jerusalem, whether the pope knew that his conversation was being recorded and filmed, the Israeli journalist would only say that the pope told him he could make known what he said.

Ms. Piqué later learned from informed Vatican sources that the pope did not know the conversation was being recorded.

As for the claim that the pope’s companion could be one of the hostages, Mr. Cymerman recalled that the pope had told him in a previous conversation that he had a friend in a kibbutz near Gaza, and so he got the impression that he could be one of the hostages.

Mr. Cymerman also said the pope expressed his willingness to meet with the families of the Argentine victims of Hamas, following a proposal made to him by Mr. Cymerman. “I am ready [to receive them],” the pope said. Eight Argentines were killed and 19 are still unaccounted for, so could be among the hostages.

Mr. Cymerman was born in Portugal of a Spanish mother and Polish father, and came to Israel at the age of 16. He speaks many languages and is one of the lead reporters for Israel’s Channel 2 TV. In April 2013 he traveled to Buenos Aires to speak at a conference on the Middle East. Some 700 people attended, including Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an old friend of Francis. Skorka afterwards approached him and asked if he would like to meet Pope Francis. Cymerman responded enthusiastically and so Skorka contacted the pope and arranged for them to meet.

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