When he sent his congratulations to Pope Francis on the latter’s election to the papacy, President Shimon Peres immediately invited him to visit Israel. In subsequent meetings with senior Catholic clergy and the Italian ambassador to Israel, Peres reiterated the invitation which was reciprocated by the Pope who informed Peres that he included him in his prayers.
As things turned out, Peres will be going to Rome before the Pope comes to Jerusalem.
Peres is scheduled to leave next Monday on a three day visit to Rome where he will meet with the Pope in the Vatican.
He will also take the opportunity to meet with the President of Italy, Italian political leaders, business leaders and representatives of the Jewish community.
In addition to his visit to Rome, Peres will travel to Assisi, the home of the Pope’s patron saint, where he will be welcomed by the mayor and Franciscan priests and will be given the key to the city and a medal in recognition of his unstinting efforts to achieve peace.
In his discussions with both the Pope and the Italian leadership, Peres will focus on hopes for stability in the Middle East, the threat of a nuclear Iran, the struggle to alleviate world poverty and the strengthening of relations between the Vatican, the Christian world in general and the Jewish People and the State of Israel. He also will discuss what Europe can do to help speed up the pece process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Peres will be one of the first heads of state to meet with Pope Francis since he took over the leadership of the Catholic Church.