Israeli President, Shimon Peres, in official visit to Pope Francis at the Vatican

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President Shimon Peres, 30 April 2013, conducted a historic visit to the Vatican and held a first diplomatic meeting with Pope Francis. At the beginning of the meeting President Peres congratulated the new Pope and said, Your appointment as Pope is a welcome message to the whole world and not just to Catholics. Your leadership is characterized by humility, the pursuit of peace and not by force. Your leadership creates a new spirit of hope for peace, of dialogue between nations and of the promotion of a solution to global poverty and illiteracy.

Sadly, there are many religious leaders in the Middle East and across the world who advocate terror and bloodshed and do so in the name of the Lord. We all have an obligation to stand up and say, in a loud and clear voice, that the Lord did not give anyone the authority to murder and carry out bloodshed. Your voice has a great impact in this matter. Pope Francis thanked President Peres for his words and expressed his agreement and support. The Pope suggested creating a global meeting of hope with the heads of all the world’s faiths and to come out against violence and terror.

During the meeting Pope Francis raised the issue of anti-Semitism in the world and made clear that anti-Semitism contravenes the beliefs of Christianity and that it must be opposed in every country in the world and every corner of the globe. Pope Francis asked to hear from President Peres about the state of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and the situation in the wider Middle East.

President Peres said, “The Middle East is disintegrating, it is in a real existential danger with a severe lack of employment, of food and of water. If those existential problems are not solved then violence and terror will gain a central place, as dangerous weapons fall into the hands of extremists. Iran is developing nuclear weapons for mass destruction and Syria is housing huge quantities of chemical weapons. I fear for the fate of the people of Iran and Syria under their current fanatical leadership.” President Peres added that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons and that Syrian chemical weapons must not fall into irresponsible hands.

President Peres reiterated that the great hope in the Middle East is peace and welcomed the meeting between the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League in Washington. “I believe that there is chance to open negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and that Abu Mazen is a genuine partner for peace. The ministers of the Arab League once again expressed their support for the two-state solution, which is also accepted by us and a broad structure of
support is being created for making progress,” President Peres said to Pope Francis, “You have an important role in progressing peace and the belief in it, I turn to you and ask that within your sermons in front of millions of believers in the world you include the hope for peace in the Middle East and the whole world.”

At the end of the meeting President Peres invited Pope Francis to come for an official state visit in Israel and said, “I would like to invite you to visit the Holy Land. I am sure that you will be received warmly by all the citizens, regardless of religion, race or nationality. The citizens of Israel see in you a leader of peace and good will. The sooner you visit the better as in these days a new opportunity is being created for peace and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace.” Pope Francis thanked President Peres for the invitation and said that he greatly wishes to visit Israel and would try to find a time to do so in the near future.

President Peres was welcomed in the Vatican with an honor guard of the Swiss Guard and took part in a ceremony of gift exchanges with Pope Francis during which he gave to the pope a Bible which was specially bound for him and on it were the words “So that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go” from the Book of Kings. Pope Francis gave President Peres a medal of gold to mark his visit.

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