Pope calls Abbas ‘angel of peace’ during Vatican visit
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Pope calls Abbas ‘angel of peace’ during Vatican visit

Francis meets with PA chief after Holy See’s decision to acknowledge Palestinian state angers Jerusalem

Pope Francis welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience on May 16, 2015 in Vatican (AFP photo pool/Alberto Pizzoli)
Pope Francis welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience on May 16, 2015 in Vatican (AFP photo pool/Alberto Pizzoli)

Pope Francis praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace” during a meeting at the Vatican.

Francis made the compliment Saturday during the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of an official audience in the Apostolic Palace. He presented Abbas with a medallion and explained that it represented the angel of peace “destroying the bad spirit of war.”

Francis said he thought the gift was appropriate since “you are an angel of peace.”

Abbas is in town for the canonization Sunday of two new saints from what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine. It also comes days after the Vatican finalized a bilateral treaty with the “state of Palestine,” making explicit its recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Abbas, for his part, offered Francis relics of the two new saints.

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during an audience at the Vatican Saturday, May 16, 2015. (Alberto Pizzoli/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during an audience at the Vatican Saturday, May 16, 2015. (Alberto Pizzoli/Pool Photo via AP)

The treaty, which was finalized Wednesday but still has to be signed, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

A bilateral commission is putting the final touches to the agreement, on the Catholic Church’s life and activities in Palestine, which then “will be submitted to the respective authorities for approval ahead of setting a debate in the near future for the signing,” the Vatican said on Wednesday.

Some observers speculated that the agreement could be signed during Abbas’s visit.

The news of the treaty immediately drew ire from Israel.

“Israel heard with disappointment the decision of the Holy See to agree a final formulation of an agreement with the Palestinians including the use of the term ‘Palestinian State’,” said an Israeli foreign ministry official.

“Such a development does not further the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct bilateral negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next step.”

The agreement, 15 years in the making, expresses the Vatican’s “hope for a solution to the Palestinian question and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians according to the two-state solution,” Antoine Camilleri, the Holy See’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview earlier this week.

In an interview with the Vatican’s Osservatore Romano newspaper, Camilleri said he hoped “the accord could, even in an indirect way, help the Palestinians in the establishment and recognition of an independent, sovereign and democratic State of Palestine.”

The Palestinian Authority considers the Vatican one of 136 countries to have recognized Palestine as a state, although the number is disputed and several recognitions by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.

Abbas’s visit came a day before two nuns who lived in Ottoman Palestine during the 19th century will be made saints at a Vatican ceremony.

Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem and Mariam Bawardy of Galilee will become the first Palestinian Arabs to gain sainthood.

Ghattas was born in Jerusalem in 1847, and died there in 1927. She was beatified — the final step before canonization — in 2009.

Bawardy was born in Galilee, now in northern Israel, in 1843. She became a nun in France and died in Bethlehem in 1878.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

Although there are several saints who lived in the region during Christianity’s early days, Bawardy and Ghattas are the first to be canonized from Ottoman-era Palestine.

The canonization of a third Palestinian — a Salesian monk — is still under review by the Church.

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