The white smoke had barely dispersed from over the Vatican Thursday morning when President Shimon Peres invited the new pope for a visit to Israel, asking him to contribute to peace as a spiritual, rather than a political, leader.
“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 on 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 on Wednesday.
Jewish leaders said Pope Francis I, as he will be known, 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 depths,” Peres added.
The president, also spoke of his fondness for former pope Benedict XVI, whose sudden resignation last month led to the appointment of Francis I.
“I have much respect for the resigned pope, Benedict. I found him a dear friend of our people, a profound thinker and he really contributed so much to bringing together, historically and otherwise, the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people,” Peres said. “I’m sure that the new pope, Francis, will continue. He will remind all of us, as a shepherd of our time, that the Lord loves the poor, not only the mighty, that the Lord calls us to peace not for hatred, that the Lord calls us to serve each other, to build a world where people are together without hatred.”
Benedict XVI visited Israel in July 2009, when he met with Peres and prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre 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.