Pope Francis received Israeli President Shimon Peres in a private audience today. The Vatican issued the following statement following the meeting:
'Today in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Francis received in audience His Excellency Mr Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel. President Peres then went on to meet with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.
'During the cordial talks, the political and social situation in the Middle East—where more than a few conflicts persist—was addressed. A speedy resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians is hoped for, so that, with the courageous decisions and availability of both sides as well as support from the international community, an agreement may be reached that respects the legitimate aspirations of the two Peoples, thus decisively contributing to the peace and stability of the region.
'Reference to the important issue of the City of Jerusalem was not overlooked.
'Particular worry for the conflict that plagues Syria was expressed, for which a political solution is hoped for that privileges the logic of reconciliation and dialogue.
'A number of issues concerning relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See and between state authorities and the local Catholic communities were also addressed. In conclusion, the significant progress made by the Bilateral Working Commission, which is preparing an agreement regarding issues of common interest, was appreciated and its rapid conclusion is foreseen.
'A speedy resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians is hoped for,' it said.
The meeting was the first between a leader from the Middle East and Pope Francis. Mr Peres invited Pope Francis on an official state visit to Israel.
On Monday Palestinian Christians sent an open letter to Pope Francis appealing for him to intervene on their behalf after an Israeli court ruled that the Separation Wall can be built on Palestinian land in the Cremisan Valley, encircling a convent and school on three sides, cutting it off from a nearby monastery and confiscating 75 per cent of Palestinian farmland in the area.
They wrote: 'We cry to your Holiness with a feeling of despair and urgency in order to keep alive our hope that justice and peace is still possible," said the Christians of Beit Jala. "The Israeli military occupation that has already started building the 'famous wall' annexing Palestinian land... is separating Bethlehem as well as other regions from Jerusalem and our holy places,' it said.
'We respectfully ask you to make use of this meeting to pass a strong message regarding the people of Palestine, and particularly the case of Beit Jala's Cremisan land,' it said.
The letter added: 'We need concrete actions in order to end Israel's impunity so we can live with dignity in our free state... Your Holiness, your election brought us hope that things would change. We are still hopeful.'
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that parts of the barrier were illegal and should be torn down.
In the Cremisan area, the route of the barrier deviates sharply from the Green Line, the internationally-accepted line marking the divide between Israel and the territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
But Israel's defense ministry insists it protects Israelis and that the route is determined by 'specific security considerations' of the area.
Source: Vatican Radio/CPN/ICN