Israel’s Ambassador to the Vatican, Zion Evrony, met with Pope Francis on Friday and formally invited him to visit Israel.
The pope reportedly said “Shalom” to the Israeli representative and smiled, but did not immediately respond to the invitation.
Evrony participated in a meeting with the pope along with the envoys of 180 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
President Shimon Peres invited the new pontiff to visit the Holy Land just hours after he was elected to the post by a conclave of cardinals last week.
“He’ll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land, as a man of inspiration who can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area,” Peres said during a meeting with the leaders of the Catholic Church in Poland last Thursday. “All people here, without exception, without difference of religion or nationality, will welcome the newly elected pope.”
The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected to head the Roman Catholic Church by a conclave of cardinals in the Vatican last Wednesday.
Jewish leaders said Pope Francis I has good relations with the Jewish community, being the first public personality to sign a petition calling for justice in the 1994 AMIA bombing, among other overtures.
“The newly elected pope represents devotion, the love of God, the love of peace, a holy modesty and a new continent which is now awakening,” Peres said. “We need, more than ever, a spiritual leadership and not just a political one. Where political leaders may divide, spiritual leaders may unite. Unite around a vision, unite around values, unite around a faith that we can make the world a better place to live. May the Lord Bless the new pope.”
“The relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people are now at their best in the last 2,000 years and I hope they will grow in content and depth,” Peres added.
In his first few days in the post, Pope Francis has stressed the importance of strengthening the church’s ties to Judaism. On Wednesday, Pope Francis told Jewish leaders that Catholics and Jews are “bound by a very special spiritual bond.”
He said the Catholic Church was “aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions. This I wish to repeat: the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions.”
Former pope Benedict XVI visited Israel in July 2009, when he met with Peres and prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City. He also angered some by delivering a speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial that did not describe regret for the Nazis’ actions. His predecessor John Paul II made a landmark visit to Israel in 2000.
Jewish leaders from Argentina told The Times of Israel a few days ago about their warm personal relations with Francis I, who has attended synagogue prayers, invited them for Christmas dinners, and loaned out his Cathedral for a Holocaust memorial event.