Pope Francis accepted a personal invitation to visit Israel during his meeting
with President Shimon Peres – one of the first world leaders to be granted an
audience – in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Tuesday.
“The citizens of
Israel see in you a leader of peace and good will. The sooner you visit the
better, as in these days a new opportunity is being created for peace, and your
arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in
peace,” said Peres.
The pope accepted the invitation “with willingness
and joy,” a Vatican spokesman said, but there was no indication when a trip
would be made.
Peres was also granted an audience with the previous pope,
Benedict XVI, who like his predecessor John Paul II, visited Israel and in his
case, planted an olive tree in the presidential garden in 2009.
president told the pope that his leadership created “a new spirit of hope for
peace” at a time when religious leaders in the Middle East were advocating
terror and bloodshed.
“We all have an obligation to stand up and say, in
a loud and clear voice, that the Lord did not give anyone the authority to
murder and carry out bloodshed,” Peres said.
The pope shared his plan for
an international peace convocation, with spiritual leaders of many faiths, which
will call for an end to violence, “in a loud, clear voice.”
“I turn to
you and ask that within your sermons in front of millions of believers in the
world you include the hope for peace in the Middle East and the whole world,”
The pope had already made an appeal for peace between
Israelis and Palestinians in his Easter address last month.
He also spoke
out strongly on the need to combat anti-Semitism.
A Vatican statement
said the two discussed prospects for a resumption of negotiations for a solution
that would respect “the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples, thus
decisively contributing to the peace and stability of the region.”
agreed on the need for a political solution to the civil war in neighboring
Syria. Peres also updated the pope on recent developments in the Middle East,
saying the region’s greatest problems are hunger and poverty, political
instability and unemployment.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Peres
presented the pope with a specially bound Bible with a passage from the Book of
Kings on the cover: “So that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you
Prior to leaving for Rome on Monday, Peres said one of the purposes
of his meeting with the pontiff was to strengthen the existing good relations
between Israel and the Vatican – which he said, has an important role to play in
the stability of the Middle East in endeavors towards peace.
On the day
of Peres’s departure, Palestinian Christians from Beit Jala, near Bethlehem,
published an open letter entreating the pope to intercede on their behalf and
prevent the construction of a separation wall which would isolate them from
Peres also met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the prime
minister of the Holy See, and with Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Lette. The
president wished the new premier success and drew his attention to the dangers
posed by a nuclear Iran and Syria’s chemical weapons.
Lette told Peres
that good relations between Israel and Italy were important to him and that he
would invite Israel’s government ministers to a joint meeting in Rome later in
the year.Reuters contributed to this report.