06 November 2023

Ailing Pope Francis meets rabbis to denounce antisemitism

06 November 2023

Pope Francis met with European rabbis and decried antisemitism, war and terrorism in a written speech he declined to read, saying he was not feeling well.

Francis told the rabbis on Monday during the audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace that he was very happy to receive them, but added: “I’m not feeling well, and so I prefer not to read the speech but give it to you, so you can take it with you.”

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope “has a bit of a cold and a long day of audiences”.

The 86-year-old pontiff “preferred to greet the European rabbis individually, and that’s why he handed over his speech”.

The spread of antisemitic demonstrations, which I strongly condemn, is also of great concern

The Pope continued with his scheduled activities as planed, which included an hour-long meeting in a Vatican auditorium with around 7,000 children from 84 countries.

Francis seemed at ease, chatting with the children and answering their prepared questions, including questions about how to make peace — “extend your hand” — and about war — “war is always cruel, and who pays the price? Children”.

As he sat in a chair, he shook dozens of young hands and autographed many caps and at least one sports jersey.

In his prepared speech to the rabbis, Francis said his first thought and prayers goes “above all else, to everything that has happened in the last few weeks”, a clear reference to the October 7 Hamas attack in Israel, including the taking away of hostages to the Gaza Strip, and the ensuring Israeli-Hamas war.

“Yet again violence and war have erupted in that Land blessed by the Most High, which seems continually assailed by the vileness of hatred and the deadly clash of weapons,” Francis wrote in the speech.

With France, Austria and Italy among the countries in Europe recently seeing a spate of antisemitic vandalism and slogans, Francis added: “The spread of antisemitic demonstrations, which I strongly condemn, is also of great concern.”

Francis in recent years has dealt with several health setbacks, including two abdominal surgeries and a chronic knee problem that forces him to use a wheelchair when walking longer stretches.

Earlier this year, Francis was taken to hospital for treatment of what the Vatican said was bronchitis, but the pontiff described as a bout of pneumonia.

Just a few days ago, in an interview with Italian state TV, Francis was asked about his health.

The pope replied with one of his frequent lines: “I’m still alive, you know”, and also said he was going to Dubai in early December for the Cop28 conference on combating climate change.

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