President Shimon Peres on Monday called the Vatican an important player in ensuring regional stability and said he would work to strengthen ties with the Holy See during his visit to Rome. Peres was departing for Italy to hold his first meeting with Pope Francis, and for talks with the newly elected Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta.
“I am departing for a special visit to Rome and the Vatican today. During my visit I will meet the pope and the senior leadership of the new Italian government — first and foremost the president and prime minister,” Peres told reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport before boarding his flight. “I intend to personally invite Pope Francis for an official state visit to Israel and to strengthen the good relations that already exist between Israel and the Vatican. The Vatican has an important role to play in the stability of the Middle East, and I am sure that this visit will contribute both to the state of Israel and to the cause of peace.”
During his meeting with the pope, “Peres will raise the issue of furthering peace and stability in the Middle East, progressing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the common struggle against world poverty, and the deepening of relations between Israel and the Vatican and between Christians and the Jewish people,” the President’s Residence said in a statement.
In consultations with Italian leaders, Peres will “discuss in depth the Iranian threat, increasing the economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran, European involvement in the peace process, and strengthening the strategic, technological and economic relations between Israel and Italy,” the communique stated.
Peres will also use his visit to meet with leaders of the Jewish community in Italy and senior business leaders. He will also receive an honor in the city of Assisi.
Peres has already invited the pope to visit Israel, in what would be Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s second visit to the Holy Land. As The Times of Israel reported earlier this month, Bergoglio visited in 1973, arriving just as the Yom Kippur War broke out.