During their first meeting in the Vatican, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday invited Pope Francis to visit the Holy Land.
Francis welcomed Abbas and presented him with a gift in appreciation of his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, the PA’s official news agency Wafa reported.
After the private part of the meeting, the pope gave Abbas a pen, telling him, “surely, you have a lot of things you have to sign.”
Abbas responded: “I hope to sign a peace treaty with Israel with this pen.”
Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh; Ziad al-Bandak, PA adviser on Christian affairs; and Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun attended Abbas’s Thursday meeting with the pope.
Francis, who was ordained in March of this year, has already said he would like to come to the Holy Land in response to a personal invitation from President Shimon Peres in April.
But no date has been set for such a visit, even though reports surfaced that the pope would come in March of next year. A Vatican spokesman said that while the pontiff was eager to visit Jerusalem, no specific plans have been made.
When Francis arrives, it is expected he would visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories, as did Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, and John Paul II in 2000.
To date there have been only three papal visits to the Holy Land.
Abbas’s visit with Francis follows on the heels of an announcement Wednesday night, that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans to meet with the pope in the Vatican next Wednesday.
Reuters contributed to this report.