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Pope invited to Jerusalem by Israeli president

Pope Francis greets Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Vatican (Photo: CNS)

Israeli president Shimon Peres has officially invited Pope Francis to Israel, it has been revealed after the pair met at the Vatican.

According to a statement issued by Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope would “be happy to go to the Holy Land,” although there are currently no firm plans in place for such a trip.

The statement said that during a meeting on Tuesday, Peres and Pope Francis discussed the political and social situation in the Middle East and expressed hopes for a resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians so that “with courageous decisions and availability on both sides, as well as with the support of the international community, an agreement that respects the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples can be reached.”

A resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would contribute to peace and stability throughout the region, the Vatican said. The two leaders also spoke about “the conflict that plagues Syria” and the need for a political solution in Syria that favours reconciliation and dialogue.

Peres met the Pope in the library of the Apostolic Palace; with the assistance of an interpreter the two spoke privately for about half an hour before the Israeli president introduced members of his entourage to the Pope and the two leaders exchanged gifts.

Pope Francis gave the president three Vatican medals and Peres gave the Pope a leather-bound copy of the Scriptures in Hebrew and English. The president had written a dedication: “To His Holiness Pope Francis, so that ‘you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go’ (1 Kings 2:3). With deep esteem, Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel.”

Peres, who is scheduled to receive the Medal of Honor for Peace from Franciscan friars on Wednesday, told the Pope, “I shall go to Assisi and I will pray for you.”

Prior to their private discussions, photographers took pictures of the Pope and Peres seated at the desk in the library. The Pope shrugged his shoulders and Peres told him, “It’s part of our life now.”

Before leaving Israel on Monday Peres said he wanted to “personally invite Pope Francis for an official state visit in Israel and to strengthen the good relations that already exist between Israel and the Vatican.”

Talk about a possible Papal trip to Israel circulated in March after Pope Francis met Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Several news reports said the patriarch suggested that he and the Pope meet in Jerusalem in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic first step in Catholic-Orthodox rapprochement: the 1964 meeting there between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras.