Israel on Wednesday bid a fond farewell to the Vatican's chief representative to the Holy Land, at a time of increasingly close relations between Israel and the Christian world.
The Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who was recently named the Vatican's new Apostolic Nuncio (ambassador) to the United States, is leaving Jerusalem after an eight-year term marked by vastly-improved relations between Israel and the Vatican.
"We are losing a good friend today, but we are winning another ambassador in Washington," Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson said at a farewell reception to the Vatican Ambassador in Jerusalem, attended by an array of Christian religious leaders in the Holy Land as well as former chief rabbi Yisrael Lau.
The 67-year-old Vatican ambassador, who served in his capacity from 1998 and who worked to bring Christian pilgrims back to the Holy Land despite the outbreak of Palestinian violence during his tenure, called Jerusalem the "spiritual capital of humanity."
"It is not so easy to go away from Jerusalem... Jerusalem always gives you much more than you can give it," he said at the event.
The veteran Vatican diplomat noted that it was the responsibility of religious leaders to create a climate of respect and humanity between Jews, Christians and Muslims, work which he said was still incomplete in the Holy Land.
Lau, who formed a very close relationship with Sambi during his tenure, which peaked with the historic 2,000 visit of the late pope John Paul II to the Holy Land, concurred, saying that religious leaders could serve to be a bridge to friendship understanding and brotherhood between people of all faiths "even in Jerusalem" which "pretends" to be the city of peace.
"To die together we all know how, but to live together we still need to learn," he concluded.