(JTA) – Pope Francis phoned Rome’s chief rabbi to express condolences on the murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni said the pope called him at home on Tuesday afternoon, the day the teens were buried side by side and within hours of the Vatican releasing a strong statement condemning the killings, according to the daily Il Messaggero.
Di Segni told Il Messaggero that the pope said, “Good evening. This is Pope Francis. I wanted very much to personally express my grief for the death of the three youths.”
The rabbi, who said he first thought the call was a prank, also said the pope had said he would pray for the boys and their families.
Earlier in the day, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi had called the murders “terrible and dramatic.” He said “the assassination of innocent people is always an execrable and unacceptable crime and a serious obstacle on the path toward the peace for which we must tirelessly continue to strive and pray.”
Lombardi said Pope Francis “participates in the unspeakable suffering of the families struck by this homicidal violence and the pain of all persons afflicted by the consequences of hatred, and prays that God might inspire all with thoughts of compassion and peace.”
Also Tuesday, clashes in Rome between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators left several injured, including one pro-Palestinian demonstrator who reportedly was beaten up by supporters of Israel.