Italy hands Peres honorary peace citation award

In town of Assisi, where a Franciscan friar hid hundreds of Jews at great personal risk, Peres' peace achievements honored.

May 1, 2013 16:50
2 minute read.
Peres receives award from mayor of Assisi Claudio Ricci

Peres receives peace award 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Spokesman of the President's Residence)


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President Shimon Peres received a citation on Wednesday naming him an honorary citizen of peace of Assisi.

Peres visited the town, 130 km. north of Rome, and was honored at an award ceremony held in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in the presence of hundreds of Franciscan friars and other devout Catholics.

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He also received the key to the city.

The town was beautifully decorated in honor of the occasion, and was festooned with Italian and Israeli flags.

Word of the ceremony had spread and attracted thousands of tourists who wanted to witness the historic event.

Assisi Mayor Claudio Ricci, who made the presentation, told Peres that he was the first recipient of honorary citizenship of peace.

Assisi, which has known great suffering, but has placed great value on patience and the advancement of peace, even in the face of complexities, conveys the message of St. Francis, the town and the Cathedral of St. Francis to Peres in whom it sees someone who is advancing the values of peace and dialogue in his actions, which are the realization of the values of Assisi, said Ricci.

“We know that peace is complicated and not easy to attain, but peace is life and full of hope and you, Mr. President, are the shining example of all that,” Ricci said.

In accepting the award, Peres, who was visibly moved, said that he bore with him the thankfulness of the Jewish People, for the saving of Jewish life in this very cathedral.

During World II, from September 1943 to June 1944, Father Rufino Niccacci, a Franciscan friar, hid and saved hundreds of Jews by giving them shelter in his monastery and in the cathedral. At one stage, the Gestapo arrested him, but released him after a higher church authority interceded on his behalf.

Niccacci, who had never seen a Jew before, was acting on orders from Bishop Placido Nicolini. Both have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

There were other Franciscans involved in the operation to save the Jews and there was a friar who set up a clandestine school for Jewish children.

Assisi was the birthplace of Saint Francis, the patron saint of the new pope, who took his name.

Peres at the ceremony called for people of all faiths to unite in efforts for peace.

“Leaders of all religious persuasions can make significant contributions towards peace,” he said.

Turning to the elimination of poverty which is another goal high on his agenda, Peres noted that St. Francis had dedicated his life to fighting against poverty and to bringing about peace.

“And he was right. Peace is the only and the best solution against terror and threats. I believe in peace with all my heart. I have always done so. We must pray together for an end to the terrible bloodshed in the Middle East and transform the world into a place where people go together hand in hand,” the president said.

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