Pope Francis sent a message of warm greetings to President Reuven Rivlin as he flew over Israeli airspace Friday on his way to a historic visit to Iraq.
The message was relayed by the pilot of the Alitalia plane to Israeli air traffic control.
“To His Excellency Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel. Entering Israeli airspace on my Apostolic journey to Iraq, I send warm greetings to you and the people of the nation. Praying that almighty God will bless you all with His gift of harmony and peace. Franciscus Papa,” the pope could be heard saying in a recording published by Rivlin’s office.
The president’s office said that “air traffic control of the Israel Airports Authority in the north of the country thanked the pilot and promised to convey the message to the president, who was deeply moved by the kind words from the Pope, with whom he is in close and warm contact.”
Rivlin also tweeted his thanks.
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) March 6, 2021
Francis traveled to the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq to reinforce his message of interreligious tolerance and fraternity during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, a country riven by religious and ethnic divisions.
At the 6,000-year-old archaeological complex near Nasiriyah, the pope said: “From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: They are betrayals of religion.”
Earlier Francis held a historic encounter in nearby Najaf with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of most of the world’s Shiite Muslims.
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history and a milestone in Francis’s efforts to deepen dialogue with other religions.
Pope Francis’s visit fulfilled a desire once held by late pope John Paul II to visit the site. A planned trip in 2000 was eventually canceled due to security reasons.