(OSV News) – Pope Francis sat down exclusively with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell on April 24 for an interview ahead of the Vatican’s inaugural “World Children’s Day.” The CBS interview marks the first time a pope has given an in-depth, one-on-one interview to a U.S. broadcast network, according to the network.

In the brief portion of the interview that aired April 24, topics ranged from the conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and the plight of children in these areas to climate change and the decline in the number of U.S. Catholics.

Pope Francis greets children as he accepts the offertory gifts during Mass for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day on New Year’s Day in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 1, 2024. A portion of a new interview with Pope Francis aired April 24 on “CBS Evening News” with Norah O’Donnell; the full version will air May 19 and 20 ahead of the inaugural World Children’s Day in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

O’Donnell asked Pope Francis about “pictures of starving children coming out of Gaza” and what he thought of those that “call that a genocide.”

The pope replied that he calls a Catholic parish of about 600 people in Gaza every afternoon, where he hears that the situation is “very hard” as “food goes in, but they have to fight for it. It’s very hard.”

In her report, O’Donnell noted that the pope condemned the Oct. 7 attack on Israelis by the terrorist group Hamas and also called on Israel to use restraint. Earlier this month, the pope met with the families of Israelis hostages still held by Hamas. O’Donnell referenced the pope’s past calls for peace and a ceasefire in the region and asked him if he could “help negotiate peace.”

“I can pray, I do,” he replied, “I pray a lot.”

In advance of World Children’s Day, O’Donnell asked about the United Nations’ estimate that “over a million people will be facing famine in Gaza, many of them children.”

“Not only Gaza,” the pope replied, “we should think about Ukraine.”

“Those kids don’t know how to smile,” he lamented. “I tell them something, but they forgot how to smile. And this is very hard when a child forgets to smile. That’s really very serious.”

“Do you have a message for Vladimir Putin when it comes to Ukraine,” O’Donnell asked.

“Please, countries at war, all of them: Stop the war,” the pope said, “look to negotiate. Look for peace. A negotiated peace is better than a war without end.”

When asked about his practice of inviting children to join him in the popemobile and to visit the Apostolic Palace, the pope said that children “always bear a message. They bear a message, and it is a way for us to have a younger heart.”

O’Donnell also asked the pope about those who deny climate change.

“There are people who are foolish and foolish even if you show them research; they don’t believe it,” he replied. “Why? Because they don’t understand the situation or because of their interest, but climate change exists.”

O’Donnell cited a statistic that in the US, only 20% of adults identify as Catholic, down from 24% in 2007. She asked Pope Francis to “speak to those who don’t go to Mass anymore, or maybe don’t see a place for themselves in the Catholic Church.”

“I would say there is always a place, always,” he replied. “If in this parish, the priest doesn’t seem welcoming, I understand, but go and look.”

“There is always a place,” he emphasized. “Do not run away from the church. The church is very big. It’s more than a temple. It’s more. You shouldn’t run away.”

In addition to the brief interview segment that aired April 24, CBS will air more of the interview on “60 Minutes” May 19 and in a primetime special on May 20. O’Donnell revealed that she had also asked the pope about “the migrant crisis, gay rights, women’s role in the church and whether he’s thinking about retirement” in the remainder of the interview.