The President and The Pope

November 16, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Israel’s President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin began his visit to the Vatican and Rome with an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis.

Photo credit: Kobi Gideon, GPO

This is the second time the two have met with their first meeting also at the invitation of the Pope, in 2015.

The president and his wife Nechama received an official welcome to the Vatican by reviewing the Pontifical Swiss Guard in their traditional dress. Afterwards, the president had an audience with the Pope in the Apostolic Palace.

In the meeting, the president expressed his appreciation to the Pope for the friendly relations between the Holy See and the Jewish people on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Fundamental Accord in December 1993. The Vatican Nunciature in Jerusalem and the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See were opened in January 1994.

The president thanked the Pope for his positions and for his work on behalf of world Jewry and his fight against anti-Semitism. “Your absolute condemnation of acts of anti-Semitism and your definition of such acts as anti-Christian are a significant step in the ongoing fight to stamp it out,” said the president, and emphasized, “the State of Israel has full freedom of worship for all religions in all holy places.”

Photo credit: Kobi Gideon, GPO

The two discussed the regional situation. The president told the Pope that the unending missile fire that Israeli citizens live under is unacceptable and cannot continue. “Hamas, again and again, escalates the situation by cynically exploiting the people of Gaza,” he said. “Israel does not want escalation or to hurt innocent civilians, but will not stand by while Hamas undermines stability and our civilians are harmed.” President Rivlin spoke to the Pope at length about the return of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens who are held by Hamas as a basic humanitarian condition for any possible future arrangement.

The focus of the meeting between the president and the Pope was the “Land of the Monasteries” project that is progressing in the Jordan Valley, close to the baptismal site of John the Baptist. President Rivlin told the Pope that he is promoting the project out of a desire to develop further opportunities for Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land and said that “developing the site is an important part of building bridges between peoples and religions and will allow the vision of co-existence to become a reality of cooperation between Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians.” The president added that the monasteries, which were mined in the past and have been inaccessible, will be handed over to their Christian owners for restoration and reopening in the second half of 2019 once the landmines are cleared from the area, creating an area of pilgrimage for visitors from all over the world. “Christian pilgrimage to Israel has increased in recent years and is an important part of our incoming tourism from many countries. Encouraging this is important to both us and the Vatican,” he said.

At the end of the audience with the Pope, the president presented him with “Assemble Jerusalem”, a 3D print of the Old City of Jerusalem in stainless steel created by Lorin Fridberg, a student at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. The president told the Pope that the design is based on the outlines of the quarters of the Old City that can be dismantled and reassembled, connecting and merging them into a single complete object. “Jerusalem has been a holy city for the three monotheistic religions for centuries. For the Jewish people, Jerusalem has been the spiritual centre since the days of the First Temple over 3000 years ago, but it is also a microcosm of our ability to live together,” said the president.

Following the audience with the Pope, the president met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and tomorrow will meet with President of Italy Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conta.

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