04 December 2013, The Tablet

Francis and Israeli PM Netanyahu prepare for Holy Land visit

Pope Francis and his Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, have held talks in Rome with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, furthering plans for a papal visit to the Holy Land next spring and discussing peaceful coexistence in the region.

Mr Netanyahu met privately for 20 minutes with Pope Francis, accompanied only by a translator. He later held talks with Archbishop Parolin and the Vatican’s equivalent of deputy foreign minister, Mgr Antoine Camilleri. He told reporters afterwards that he had reiterated the invitation President Shimon Peres first extended last April to the Pope to visit Israel.

The Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas also invited Francis to visit the West Bank when he was in the Vatican in October.

Unconfirmed reports say the visit is to take place around 25-26 May next year. However, the Vatican’s equivalent of foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, announced in Amman last Saturday that the trip would begin in Jordan. The country’s King Abdullah II invited Francis when they met in Rome in August.

“Aside from indicating the Holy Father’s plans for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, various questions were considered regarding the relations between the state authorities and the local Catholic communities, as well as between the state of Israel and the Holy See,” said the communiqué on Monday’s meetings with Mr Netanyahu.

Secretary of State officials expressed eagerness to finalise an agreement on church properties and employees in Israel. Talks on these issues have dragged on for 21 years without a fruitful conclusion.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Chaldean Patriarch in Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako, is hoping Francis will become the first Pope ever to visit Iraq. He told the Rome-based AsiaNews last week that his country needs a papal visit to help keep Christians from leaving the Middle East. He said the Pope “took note” of the request, which he made during a recent trip to Rome.

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