(photo credit: Fotografia Felici)
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI met KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler in the Vatican on January 14th and responded to the statement that Israel is striving for peace by declaring. "I also want peace - and peace is extremely important to me." The meeting was held in the auditorium before an audience of several thousand.
Stenzler spoke about the war in the south and the struggle against terror. "There are terrorists who are motivated by evil and who wish to destroy peace. It is therefore important that Jews and Christians join forces to reach the objective of Peace." The Pope responded with a supportive "That is truly very important."
Stenzler headed a KKL-JNF delegation visiting the Vatican and the Holy Seat together with Israeli Ambassador Mordecai Levi, president of KKL-JNF Italy Raffaele Sassun, KKL-JNF emissary to Italy Refael Ovadia, and Avi Dickstein, Excecutive Director of KKL-JNF Resources & Development Division.
The successful meeting took place at the conclusion of the main mass. The Pope shook hands with Stenzler for a long time, who later updated the Pope about current activities of KKL-JNF in Israel and worldwide and discussed the Pope's forthcoming visit to Israel scheduled for May. Stenzler told the Pope, "My ambition is to utilize your forthcoming visit to the Land of Israel this year to help build bridges between the Jewish People and Christians through ecological and environmental issues that are pure and good for all of humanity, regardless of religion or faith." The Pope optimistically expressed the hope that his visit would indeed take place.
Stenzler presented the Pope with a certificate of honor upon which was inscribed: "To His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in Recognition of His Work for Peace, Justice, and Human Fellowship." He also presented the Pope with two gifts from the Holy Land: a KKL-JNF Blue Box with the Israeli flag and Magen David mounted on an olive wood pedestal; and a Bible in Hebrew and English with a silver relief of Jerusalem on its cover commemorating the places that are holy to the three monotheistic religions. The Pope was extremely impressed with the gifts, looking at them for a long time and expressing his particular pleasure with the Bible in Hebrew script.
Avi Dickstein presented the Pope with an illustrated booklet describing current KKL-JNF projects in Israel, being established with the help of friends worldwide. The Pope and the cardinal studied the booklet, being impressed with the various projects.
KKL- JNF's past and future Connection with the Vatican
As in the past, KKL-JNF continues to initiate projects to ensure the conservation of Biblical Israel. The meeting with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, in January 2009 is another step in the process of Catholic-Jewish dialogue first consecrated in living form by the Catholic-Jewish Reconciliation Forest.
On Friday, March 24th, 2000, immediately following Mass at Korazim on the Mount of Beatitudes, Pope John Paul II blessed an olive tree sapling that was presented to him by representatives of the KKL-JNF. The sapling was later planted at Amnun Beach on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a senior representative of the papal entourage from the Vatican and President of the Vatican's 2000 Grand Jubilee Committee, together with Piero Abbina, President of KKL-JNF Italy.
In 1997, formal papal secretary Monsignor Lorie Copavilla planted a tree at a new forest in Nazareth honoring Pope John XXIII. Some forty Italian pilgrims from Pope John XXIII's birthplace (Bergamo, near Milan) also attended the dedication. Citing Jewish and Christian sources, Copavilla said: "The two religions are like two trees sharing the same Biblical roots."
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