Pope Francis paid a visit to Israeli President Shimon Peres on the last day of his three day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In an encounter with the press ahead of a private meeting, Mr. Peres told the Holy Father peace requires “creativity and inspiration” and observed that Pope Francis possessed both. For his part, Pope Francis thanked the President for his warm words of welcome and said their encounter had inspired him to create “a new Beatitude: ‘Blessed is he who enters the home of a wise and good man.’ And I feel blessed,” he added.
At the entrance of the Presidential Palace, Mr. Peres introduced the Pope to a number of terminally ill children suffering from cancer who had expressed the desire to meet the Holy Father before they died. The Pope and Mr. Peres later planted an olive tree in the gardens of the Presidential Palace. The Israeli President and Pope Francis also delivered speeches in the presence of religious, political and civic leaders and several hundred children of different faiths and were treated to a brief musical interlude.
In his discourse, the Pope condemned antisemitism, encouraged peace efforts to resolve Israeli-Palestinian and interfaith tensions, rejected all forms of intolerance and urged respect for the rights of the Christian community as well as the “rights of all other religious groups and all minorities” in Israel. Pope Francis expressed his hope that Jerusalem “may truly be the City of Peace,” and that its Holy Places not be “monuments or museums for tourists, but places where communities of believers daily express their faith and culture and carry out their works of charity.” He urged that their “sacred character must be perpetually maintained” for those who wish to pray in them today and in future. He added, “How good it is when pilgrims and residents enjoy free access to the Holy Places and can freely take part in religious celebrations.”
Below, please find the full English text of Pope Francis’ address to Israeli President Shimon Peres:
Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Visit to the President of Israel
Jerusalem, 26 May 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am grateful to you, Mr President, for your kind greeting and your words of welcome. I am happy to be able to meet you once again, this time in Jerusalem, the city which preserves the Holy Places dear to the three great religions which worship the God who called Abraham. The Holy Places are not monuments or museums for tourists, but places where communities of believers daily express their faith and culture, and carry out their works of charity. Precisely for this reason, their sacred character must be perpetually maintained and protection given not only to the legacy of the past but also to all those who visit these sites today and to those who will visit them in the future. May Jerusalem be truly the City of Peace! May her identity and her sacred character, her universal religious and cultural significance shine forth as a treasure for all mankind! How good it is when pilgrims and residents enjoy free access to the Holy Places and can freely take part in religious celebrations.
Mr President, you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker. I appreciate and admire the approach you have taken. Peacemaking demands first and foremost respect for the dignity and freedom of every human person, which Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe to be created by God and destined to eternal life. This shared conviction enables us resolutely to pursue peaceful solutions to every controversy and conflict. Here I renew my plea that all parties avoid initiatives and actions which contradict their stated determination to reach a true agreement and that they tirelessly work for peace, with decisiveness and tenacity.
There is likewise need for a firm rejection of all that is opposed to the cultivation of peace and respectful relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. We think, for example, of recourse to violence and terrorism, all forms of discrimination on the basis of race or religion, attempts to impose one’s own point of view at the expense of the rights of others, anti-Semitism in all its possible expressions, and signs of intolerance directed against individuals or places of worship, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
A variety of Christian communities live and work in the State of Israel. They are an integral part of society and participate fully in its civic, political and cultural affairs. Christians wish, as such, to contribute to the common good and the growth of peace; they wish to do so as full-fledged citizens who reject extremism in all its forms and are committed to fostering reconciliation and harmony.
The presence of these communities and respect for their rights – as for the rights of all other religious groups and all minorities – are the guarantee of a healthy pluralism and proof of the vitality of democratic values as they are authentically embodied in the daily life and workings of the State.
Mr President, you know that I pray for you and I know that you pray for me, and I assure you of my prayers for the institutions and the citizens of the State of Israel. I likewise assure you of my constant prayer for the attainment of peace and all the inestimable goods which accompany it: security, tranquillity, prosperity – and that which is most beautiful – fraternity. Finally, my thoughts turn to all those afflicted by the continuing crises in the Middle East. I pray that their sufferings may soon be alleviated by an honourable resolution of hostilities. Peace be upon Israel and the entire Middle East! Shalom!