Pope meets with Palestinian leader

Abbas: "You will be very welcome in Jerusalem and all the holy places."

pope benedict 88 (photo credit: )
pope benedict 88
(photo credit: )
Pope Benedict XVI held talks on Saturday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who expressed hope the pontiff would visit Jerusalem. "You will be very welcome in Jerusalem and all the holy places," Abbas, speaking English, told the pope after their private 20-minute meeting, when journalists were allowed to witness their goodbyes. "Thank you very much," the pope replied. Both men were smiling and appeared relaxed. Last month, President Moshe Katsav invited Benedict to Israel, and said he hoped the pope would visit next year. No details about Abbas' meeting with Benedict in the pontiff's library were released immediately. The Palestinian leader scheduled a news conference for later in the afternoon in Rome. The Vatican news bulletin listed the meeting, which was expected to include a review of Middle East tensions and peace prospects, without comment. One of the members in the Palestinian delegation presented the pope with what was described as a "Palestinian passport." Instead of listing a name, the document said "Vatican City State," officials said. The delegate, who was not immediately identified by the Vatican, and the pope chatted in German briefly as Benedict examined the document. Abbas' visit to the Vatican, which included separate talks with the pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was his last major appointment of a three-day visit to Italy. On Friday, after talks with Italian leaders, Abbas vowed to end the violence that marred primary elections across the Palestinian territories earlier in the week. He also promised "security and transparency" in next month's parliamentary elections. Israel is holding elections in March, and on Friday, at a news conference with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Abbas praised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who recently formed a new political party. Abbas expressed confidence that the Israeli people would chose the path of peace in the Israeli elections. When Pope John Paul II received Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1982, the first of many meetings the two men had, it sparked protests in Israel and in the worldwide Jewish community. The Vatican under John Paul II consistently championed rights for the Palestinian people, while at the same time greatly improving relations with Israel.