Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with Pope Francis next week. The visit is slated to take place during Netanyahu’s trip to Italy, which begins on Sunday. The prime minister is expected to invite the pope to Israel.
The meeting would be Netanyahu’s first with the current pope, who met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in October at the Vatican and with President Shimon Peres in April. Netanyahu met with the previous pope, Benedict XVI, in 2009, as well as with Pope John Paul II in 1997.
Attempts to bring about a meeting between the two world leaders have not gone entirely smoothly. In October, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement announcing that the prime minister would be meeting with the pope at the Vatican to discuss nuclear talks with Iran and the ongoing peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
However, it later emerged that the PMO’s announcement was premature; there were no confirmed plans for a meeting with the pontiff, which typically has to be scheduled further in advance.
Peres and Abbas both invited the pontiff to Israel and the Palestinian territories, and Francis has said he would like to visit the Middle East.
Abraham Skorka, a rabbi closely affiliated with the leader of the Catholic world, said in October that the pope aims to visit Israel in March 2014. Skorka said that Francis’s “lifelong dream” was to visit the Holy Land and “to embrace” with the rabbi in front of the Western Wall. This, even though he has been to Israel before.
A week earlier, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) met Pope Francis in the Vatican, and invited him to Israel and to the Knesset.
Francis replied emphatically, “I’ll come! I’ll come!”
Pope Francis’s visit would mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jerusalem in 1964, which took place before the Vatican recognized the State of Israel.
The future trip would mark Francis’s second visit to the Holy Land. He arrived here in 1973, just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. As The Times of Israel revealed in April, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (as he was then) spent six days confined to his Jerusalem hotel, studying the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.