Castel Gandolfo (AsiaNews) – In their meeting this morning, Benedict XVI and Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed hope that Israeli-Palestinian talks in Washington may help Israelis and Palestinians reach “an agreement that is respectful of the legitimate aspirations of the two Peoples and capable of bringing lasting peace to the Holy Land and to the entire region.”
A press release by the Vatican also made further reference to renewed talks, reaffirming in order to condemn “all forms of violence and the necessity of guaranteeing better conditions of life to all the peoples of the area”.
The two men, who have known each other for some time, met in a “cordial atmosphere”. Their previous meetings took place in the Vatican in April 2006 and September 2007 and in Israel in 2009 during the papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Referring to the Pope’s visit and to the situation of the Catholic Church in Israel, the Vatican statement said, “The discussions also permitted the examination of the relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See and those of the state authorities with the local Catholic communities. In this regard, it was underlined the great particular significance of the presence of these communities in the Holy Land and the contribution which they offer for the common good of society, also through Catholic schools. Finally, the results, thus far, of the bilateral working Commission, which has for many years been tasked with the drafting of an Accord concerning economic matters, were noted while at the same time expressing the hope for the rapid conclusion of its work.”
Peres landed in Rome from Tel Aviv just before 9 am. From there, he was quickly taken to Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict XVI is currently staying, along with five aides, including two women.
The president, who also visited the gardens of the Pontifical Villas, first met for half hour with the Cardinal Secretary of State, His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, before his audience with the Pope.
The private meeting, held in English, between Shimon Peres and Benedict XVI lasted about 40 minutes. At the end, the president gave the Pope a menorah, the traditional Jewish seven-branched candelabrum. Made by an Israeli artist, the 30-centimetre object is in silver, and has an inscription that reads, “To his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, the shepherd who seeks to lead us to the fields of blessings and the fields of peace. With great esteem, Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel.”
The pope in return gave Peres a bronze medal copy of the one placed by Pope Alexander VII in 1657 on the first stone of the colonnade on the north side of Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican. The medal shows Bernini’s initial plan for Saint Peter’s Square.