Pope Francis 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin invited Pope Francis to Israel when they met on Wednesday in the Vatican.
The Pope, according to Elkin's office, said he intended on visiting the Holy Land, but that no date has yet been set. President Shimon Peres has also invited Francis to visit.
Elkin was in Rome as head of the Israeli delegation to the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission that has been negotiating with the Vatican for nearly 15 years over an agreement that would formalize diplomatic relations between the two countries.
After the meeting the two sides issued a statement that said, "The negotiations took place in a thoughtful and constructive atmosphere," and that the "Commission took notice that significant progress was made and the parties committed themselves to accelerate negotiations on the remaining issues, and look forward to an expedited conclusion in the near term."
Joint statements with almost identical wording have been released following a number of the bi-annual meetings the sides have held over the last few years. For instance, following a January meeting the sides issued a statement saying they "took notice that significant progress was made and look forward to a speedy conclusion of the agreement.”
Over the years the discussions have centered around three main issues: the status of the Catholic Church in Israel; the issue of sovereignty over some 21 sites in the country, including the Cenacle – the site of the Last Supper on Mount Zion; and taxation and expropriation issues.
In addition to meeting the Pope, Elkin also met new Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. New Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is expected to visit at the end of the month.