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Pope Francis shared our pain

 Pope Francis shared our pain  ING-013
28 March 2024

Two bereaved fathers, one an Israeli Jew, the other a Palestinian Muslim, spoke to Vatican News about their private meeting with Pope Francis before the General Audience on Wednesday, 27 March. The following is an abridged text of the interview by Francesca Sabatinelli.

Francis looks at the faces of the two girls in the photograph and blesses them. “He hugged us, and when we showed him the picture of the girls, he almost cried. He was deeply touched…”. Mr Rami Elhanan is still moved by the meeting with the Pope, as is Mr Bassam Aramin. They are the fathers Pope Francis mentioned at the end of the General Audience. The former is Israeli while the latter is a Palestinian from Jericho. They both lost their daughters. Fourteen-year-old Smadar was killed in 1997 in an attack in the centre of Jerusalem, and 10-year-old Abir was shot to death in 2007 by an Israeli soldier as she was returning home from school. Their meeting with the Pope was unexpected. They knew they would participate in the General Audience, but they had not expected to meet him in person. “The whole meeting was so merciful, so human”, said Rami. “We talked about the fact that I’m a Jew and he’s a Muslim and he [the Pope] is a Christian, and we are all humans, and we can be brothers, and he asked us to pray for him. It was unbelievable”.

“It was a big surprise for us, to be honest”, Mr Aramin adds. “We expected to shake his hand, but not that he would call us for a private meeting. I was very inspired. It was very touching... I said to him: It’s as Jesus said, love your enemy. He [meaning Elhanan] is my enemy, and we love each other. We are not friends, we are brothers. We asked him to pray for a free Palestine and for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians”.

The Pope’s voice is fundamental to both men, who since the death of their daughters, share not only friendship but also a commitment to peace and justice through “The Parents Circle” association. Francis is the voice for peace in the world, the two said, expressing their hope that the civilized and free world will not remain on the sidelines without lifting a finger, as occurred 80 years ago when Rami’s grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. It is happening again today: “While these atrocities in Gaza are taking place, the free and civilized world is still standing aside. Standing aside while a crime is being committed is also a crime”, he adds. Pope Francis is very brave, Mr Aramin says, “and he’s the only very clear voice speaking of peace and putting an end to these atrocities”.

With the help of their daughters who spur them on, and despite their infinite and profound pain, Rami and Bassam continue to speak out and spread the message of peace and fraternity, because pain is an energy that can be used to bring either “darkness and destruction, pain and death to people”, or “light, warmth and hope”.

“We know that our girls will not come back, ever; even if we killed every Arab in the world, or every Jew in the world or every Christian in the world, our girls will not return and the pain will be the same. Nothing will change this pain”, says Rami.

Rami and Bassam stress that the only way to prevent others from suffering as much as they did — and still do — is “to show hope, to share hope and to look forward and understand that Palestinians will not go anywhere and that the Israelis will also not go anywhere… and that we are doomed to live in this Holy Land of ours and we are doomed to share it in one way or another: in one state, two states, 10,000 states. Otherwise, we will continue to bury our children below this land”.

For many Israelis and Palestinians, Rami and Bassam’s words are not popular. They go against the tide, but it has been 26 years that they have been doing so and even more now since 7 October. They have lost friends and family but also gained new ones along the journey. They affirm that it is up to each person on which side of history they are standing, and they have chosen to use their pain in a positive way, despite the consequences, in order to help change people’s hearts and minds, to be able to show that it is possible to live together. Knowing that some see them as traitors, Rami says, “I always say that the traitors of today are tomorrow’s heroes”.