“I’m very happy to be here in Israel and to be so cordially welcomed, and to receive these gifts… We are very close to the Jewish Nation; your faith is our faith.” Pope Benedict XVI
Arutz Sheva reports:Photos courtesy of Reuters-Day Life
(IsraelNN.com) For the first official stop on his itinerary, Pope Benedict XVI called on President Shimon Peres in the official Presidential Residence in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon. The ceremonies included a choral presentation, and a ritual planting of an olive tree by the president and the pope.
President Peres greeted the Pope warmly, expressing happiness “that you are the pope at this important time.” Peres also said he was “very, very moved by your remarks at the airport. I want to thank you from the depth of my heart.”
The Pope responded, “I’m very happy to be here in Israel and to be so cordially welcomed, and to receive these gifts… We are very close to the Jewish Nation; your faith is our faith.”
Symbolic Gifts - Menorah, and Bible
Peres gave him two gifts: a nano-Bible – the entire 24 books of the Bible, from Genesis to Chronicles, written on a chip no bigger than a grain of sand - and a painting of a Menorah (candelabrum). The gift of a Menorah is symbolic both in that it is a symbol of the State of Israel, and in that the original Menorah from the Second Holy Temple is believed by many to be hidden in Vatican crypts, following the Roman sacking of the Temple some 1,930 years ago.
Peres then sat down with the Pope, and proceeded to refer to the agreement that Israeli and Vatican representatives have been attempting to negotiate for more than a decade. The talks revolve around Church demands for an exemption from Israeli property taxes, as well as other property demands. These include the outright transfer of six properties around the country to Church ownership, and a measure of control over the Last Supper Room above King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, Jerusalem.
Peres said, “As you know, we tried to conclude as much as we could before your visit—“ At this point, the cameras and microphones were cut off, and the conversation continued away from the public eye.
Many Israeli groups are suspicious of the papal visit because of this very issue. Peres himself has been involved in these talks for many years; just last week he was reported as having pressured Interior Minister Eli Yishai to agree to sign away the six properties.
In his official address at the ceremony, Peres said, “The State of Israel greets you today most warmly, and welcomes you with an open heart… It is with deep appreciation that we welcome you. We are attentive to your message… We see in you a promoter of peace, a great spiritual leader, a potent bearer of the message of peace to this land and to all others.”
With what some view as his trademark optimism, and what others see as myopia, the president said, “The peoples of our region have tired of wars. We shall leave the divisions to history, and the new history we shall write in letters of faith and peace.”
“Spiritual leaders can pave the way for political leaders,” Peres said. “They can clear the mine-fields that obstruct the road to peace. The spiritual leaders should reduce animosity, so that political leaders do not resort to destructive means.” (Read entire article)
Read coverage of NYC Israeli Consulate's coverage of Pope's meeting with Pres. Peres here.