President Shimon Peres invited newly installed Pope Francis to visit Israel Tuesday, telling the pontiff that his presence would help bring peace to the region.
Peres visited with Francis at the Vatican on Tuesday, becoming the first Israeli head of state to pay a call on the new pope.
“Your arrival will be welcomed with enthusiasm and love by all of the nation’s residents,” Peres assured the pope in requesting that he pay a visit to the Jewish state.
Peres and Francis discussed several Middle East issues, including the civil war in Syria and the state of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Peres told the Holy See that he was pleased to hear Tuesday’s announcement by the Arab League that it would integrate the idea of “minor” land swaps into the Arab Peace Initiative. Pope Francis expressed his hope that Israel and the Palestinians would soon return to the negotiating table.
Before the meeting, the President’s Residence said Peres would “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.”
Both of the current pontiff’s immediate predecessors visited Israel — Benedict XVI in 2009 and John Paul II in 2000. Peres has already invited the pope to visit Israel, in what would be Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s second visit to the Holy Land. Bergoglio visited in 1973, arriving just as the Yom Kippur War broke out.
“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,” Peres said on Monday before departing for Rome.
In addition to his meeting with Pope Francis, Peres met on Tuesday with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti; and Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta.
According to a communique released by the President’s Residence earlier this week, 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.”
Peres will also use his visit to meet with leaders of the Jewish community in Italy and senior business leaders. He will receive an honor in the city of Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi, after whom the new pontiff took his name.
After asking the pope “to pray for us all,” Peres told him that “I shall go to Assisi and pray for you.”