Netanyahu offers condolences for death of ex-pope Benedict, recounts Israel visit

PM had greeted the pontiff ahead of his five-day visit in 2009: ‘We will remember him as a true friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish people’

Pope Benedict XVI stands with then-president Shimon Peres, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at an official welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 11, 2009. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, file)
Pope Benedict XVI stands with then-president Shimon Peres, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at an official welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 11, 2009. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, file)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered condolences Saturday evening over the death of former pope Benedict XVI, who died earlier in the day at the age of 95, and once visited Israel.

“On behalf of all the citizens of Israel, I send my deep condolences to the Christian world on the passing of Pope Benedict XVI,” Netanyahu said in a statement published by his office.

“He was a great spiritual leader who was fully committed to the historic reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, a tradition he continued in his historic visit to Israel in 2009,” the premier said.

“In my meeting with him, he spoke warmly about the common heritage of Christianity and Judaism and the values ​​that this heritage gave to all of humanity. We will remember him as a true friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” Netanyahu added.

The German pope emeritus had been living a quiet life in a former convent inside the Vatican grounds since his shock decision to step down in February 2013.

His health had been declining for a long time, but the Vatican revealed on Wednesday that his situation had worsened, while his successor Pope Francis called for Catholics worldwide to pray for him.

On Saturday, the Vatican announced his death.

Pope Benedict XVI visits the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Menahem Kahana, Pool)

In the May 2009 visit to Israel and the West Bank, Benedict XVI was first greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by Netanyahu and then-president Shimon Peres, before traveling to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, a celebratory reception ceremony was held at the President’s Residence, and the pope later attended a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

On the second day of his five-day visit, he visited the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in the capital’s Old City.

He also met with Israel’s two chief rabbis, visited several Christian sites in Jerusalem, and toured Nazareth in northern Israel.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to journalists as he leaves the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on May 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)

In the West Bank, Benedict XVI met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and visited the Bethlehem area.

Benedict’s funeral is expected to be at the Vatican, presided over by Francis.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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