(JTA) — In an open letter addressed to the Jewish community in Israel Friday, Pope Francis decried the “terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world” in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, calling it a “piecemeal world war” that has created “divisive positions, sometimes taking the form of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.”
“Together with you, we, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world,” Francis wrote. “We had hoped that ‘never again’ would be a refrain heard by the new generations, yet now we see that the path ahead requires ever closer collaboration to eradicate these phenomena.”
In the United States, reports of antisemitic incidents have increased rapidly since Hamas’ invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League, with two-thirds of the incidents including “verbal, written, or contextual references to Israel or Zionism.” Over the course of one weekend in December, hundreds of synagogues received bomb threats, and college campuses have become a major flashpoint for federal civil rights investigations over their handling of antisemitism.
In Europe, too, antisemitic events have been on the rise since Oct. 7 — Holocaust memorial plaques in Italy were repeatedly vandalized between October and November; a Holocaust research center in London was vandalized in November with the word “Gaza,” and a synagogue in Portugal was defaced with pro-Palestinian graffiti.
Francis called for prayers for the return of the approximately 100 remaining hostages, and said, “I would also like to add that we must never lose hope for a possible peace and that we must do everything possible to promote it, rejecting every form of defeatism and mistrust.”
In recent weeks, Francis called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and humanitarian aid, as well as a hostage release.
“No to arms, yes to peace!” he wrote on X in December. “May this enormous suffering of the Israelis and the Palestinians come to an end.”
In November, Francis had drawn criticism from Jewish groups after he appeared to accuse both Israel and Hamas of acts of terrorism.
“This is what wars do,” the pope said at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Nov. 22. “But here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism.”
Those comments followed separate meetings with the families of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians with family in Gaza. It also followed an open letter signed by hundreds of Jewish academics and leaders calling on the pope to use his considerable influence to urge Catholics to advocate for the hostages and show solidarity with Jews.
“Together, Jews and Catholics, we must commit ourselves to this path of friendship, solidarity and cooperation in seeking ways to repair a destroyed world, working together in every part of the world, and especially in the Holy Land, to recover the ability to see in the face of every person the image of God, in which we were created,” he added in his Friday remarks this week.
Francis echoed similar sentiments as he marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the end of his weekly general audience on Jan. 27.
“The remembrance and condemnation of that horrific extermination of millions of Jews and of other faiths, which occurred in the first half of the last century, help us all not to forget that the logic of hatred and violence can never be justified, because they deny our very humanity,” Francis said.
The day before, Noemi de Segni, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, criticized unnamed Catholic leaders who had “minimized the recognition of what happened on Oct. 7 as a terrorist act compared to the right of Israel to defend itself.”
An annual marathon in multiple Italian cities to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day was canceled due to security reasons, de Segni said.
“Of course security was organized, but for this year it seems impossible to think of running in the streets of Italy,” de Segni told an Italian outlet. “Those who raise their arms in a fascist salute … are almost protected by constitutional freedoms.”