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Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, poses for a photo while speaking to reporters at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2023. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church’s highest ranking prelate in the Holy Land offered his “absolute availability” to be exchanged for Israeli children taken hostage by Hamas.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told reporters during an online meeting Oct. 16 that he is willing to do “anything” to “bring to freedom and bring home the children” taken into Gaza during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which more than 1,300 Israelis were killed. The Israeli military said Oct. 16 that some 200 people, including children and elderly persons, are being held hostage.

Returning the hostages held in Gaza is “absolutely necessary” to stopping the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas, the cardinal said. He expressed the Vatican’s willingness to assist in de-escalation and mediation efforts but said they had not been able to speak with Hamas.

Cardinal Pizzaballa said some 1,000 Christians in Gaza are currently sheltering in church-affiliated buildings because “they don’t know where to go and moving is dangerous.”

While Christians concentrated in northern Gaza were told to leave the area by the Israeli military, “practically all have chosen to stay there because it is safer for them to stay, since the situation is even more delicate elsewhere.” The cardinal said none of the Christians sheltering in Gaza have been killed, though some have suffered light wounds.

“Moving is dangerous because many die in transfers,” and “possible places of refuge are already overflowing; there is no place to go,” he said.

The cardinal said that some 500 Christians are sheltering at a Latin-rite church, some 400 are in a Greek Orthodox church and approximately 300 are at a YMCA. “Supplies are beginning to run short,” he said. “We try, through our contacts, to make as many physical supplies as possible reach (them), provisions such as medicine, water, even generators.”

Cardinal Pizzaballa said the Catholic Church, in coordination with humanitarian agencies, is “trying to insist” that a humanitarian corridor can be opened into Gaza to allow basic necessities to be brought in.

After praying the Angelus Oct. 15, Pope Francis publicly called for humanitarian law to be respected “especially in Gaza, where it is urgent and necessary to ensure humanitarian corridors and to come to the aid of the entire population.”

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