Peres at the Vartican. 'Pope will be welcomed'
Pope Benedictus XVI. 'Spiritual experience'
Next year in Israel? Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday, following a meeting with Pope Benedictus XVI at the Vatican, that the pope is considering a visit to Israel during the first half of 2007.
During the meeting, Peres gave the pope a letter sent by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In the letter, Olmert invited the pope to visit Israel.
"I told him he would be welcomed by the Israeli government and the people of Israel," Peres said.
Peres and Benedictus XVI (Photo: Reuters)
Peres was in fact renewing an invitation to visit Israel given to the pope last year by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and later by President Katsav.
The pope welcomed Israel's efforts to promote peace.
"Israel is the spiritual experience of our time," he told Peres, who is designated to be the vice prime minister in the new government.
The pope met with Peres for about 40 minutes, considered to be a long time in Vatican terms. This, Peres said, testifies to the friendly relations between the Vatican and Jerusalem.
Group photo (Photo: AP)
Peres' aides reported that the pope showed a lot of interest and support for Peres' initiative of worldwide activity, led by the Vatican, to separate religion from terror.
The two also discussed Peres' plan to rehabilitate Nazareth, while renovating the holy sites and turning the city into a big tourism center. Peres told the pope that the new Israeli government plans on increasing its rank of representation in the dialogue with the Vatican.