by SHIMON PERES
President of Israel
Exclusive to and
Issue for May 10, 2009
In the name of the State of Israel and my own, I wish to express the sentiment of participation with which we look forward to the visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.
It will be a privilege to welcome him with a word which is one of the most frequently used in the Hebrew language but which expresses at the same time the most profound aspiration of our people: SHALOM! Peace!
The story of Abraham's descendants has known bitter conflicts, wars in the name of religion, intolerances, prejudices and persecutions.
It is time to build bridges of understanding, reciprocal respect adn reconciliation in order to overcome ancient divisions and allow peace to prevail in a dialog among nations, and for inter-religious dialog to become rooted more strongly.
This is a noble purpose and it is our duty to invest in the future of the young generations and those of the future, to teach them that all men have equal rights, and that equality of rights includes the right to be different.
The visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI is a significant step towards the construction of such bridges. He is coming as the Good Shepherd, the symbol of moral values and the voice of conscience, and his message of peace and tolerance will be heard by all his flock and by all of us.
His words will give strength to our hopes for the future, not only for the relationship among the different religions, but also for those among the peoples and the cultures of the region.
Jerusalem welcomes this peacemaker with open arms. It was in the Holy City, where the prophets of Israel set up a universal code of peace, brotherhood, tolerance and love of fellowman, in the very land where Jesus left the imprint of his footsteps.
We offer His Holiness the mantle of our hospitality and we will give him a welcome with all our warmth.
Pope Benedict XVUI will be in Israel, homeland of teh Jewish people, built upon the indestructible foundation of teh Bible and animated by a people who have contributed significantly to the development of mankind in fields such as science, technology, medicine, culture and the arts.
Sixty years have elapsed sine Auschwitz but we still have not reached a place that is completely secure. Anti-Semitism, negationists who deny the Holocaust, the politics of terror, and the appeals to destroy our people and state continue to threaten us.
But despite all this, and despite the wars which we were constrained to wage and the threats that continue against us, we continue to to search for peace and we have not given up hope of seeing the day when our dream will be realized and, together with our children, we shall be able to live securely and in peace.
Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land is for our hearts a supplement of hope in the fact that our prayers will be answered.
In his mission of peace, tolerance and faith, may His Holiness bring his entire flock to follow his pilgrimage to our region, a trip of solidarity and hope that is capable of lifting the spirit.
I join in the prayers for peace of the people of Israel and anticipate the joy of giving the Pope a welcome of the peace.
I do not know if President Peres was aware, when he wrote this piece, that the motto
Benedict XVI chose for this pilgrimage was from Matthew:
'BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS FOR THEY SHALL BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD'
which appears on the cover of the Missal prepared by the Vatican for the visit:
About President Peres, there is now a clarification about what he really prposed about the Christian Holy Sites whose status remains the subject of engotiations between the Vatican and Israel:
Israeli, Vatican officials deny reports
about control of holy sites
By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service
JERUSALEM, May 6 (CNS) -- Israeli and Vatican officials denied reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres had asked the government to relinquish sovereignty over several holy places as a gesture of good will for Pope Benedict XVI.
Reports abounded in the Israeli press in early May claiming internal discord between Peres and officials from the Tourism and Interior ministries after the President allegedly had urged them to yield key Christian holy sites to the Vatican.
"What was published was taken out of context," a spokeswoman for the President's office said May 6. "The Israeli media published it as if the President was asking to give up sovereignty over holy sites, and there is a great distance between that and the reality."
The spokeswoman said Israel already has pledged to the Vatican that it will not confiscate land around six Christian sites for any sort of national development purpose such as the widening of roads
She said Peres had asked the ministries, as a gesture of good will before the Pope's May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land, to confirm the pledge and to speed up the negotiations.
The holy sites mentioned include the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth; Gethsemane in Jerusalem; Capernaum, which served as Jesus' home base during his Galilean ministry; Tabgha, where Jesus called several of his apostles to follow him; Mount Tabor, believed to be the site of the Transfiguration; and the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper and the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.
Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal nuncio to Israel, said the reports were a "big mess, a confusion of things."
"I don't know where they got their confusion but I regret the wrong message was given," Archbishop Franco said in answer to a question about the report at a May 5 press conference about Pope Benedict's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories following his three-day visit to Jordan.
"Honestly, we are working in good faith in trying to face different aspects of Catholic faith and Catholic life in Israel. We are still negotiating. To say this or that is simply the wrong message."
Legal and fiscal issues remained unresolved following the signing of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Vatican, despite its stipulation that an agreement had to be reached on remaining matters within two years. Bilateral permanent working commissions have been meeting since 1999 to try to resolve the differences.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/7/2009 5:31 PM]