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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
9: The Catholic Church getting directly involved in the “Road to Peace” process.
Pope meets Israel's Peres
By ALESSANDRA RIZZO
ROME - Pope Benedict XVI and Israeli President Shimon Peres discussed
Middle East peace efforts on Thursday, with both sides saying the
atmosphere was favorable for Israelis and Palestinians to work to end
decades of conflict.
Peres renewed an invitation to Benedict to visit the Holy Land during
the meeting at the pontiff's summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, south of
Rome. The president said the pope expressed his desire to visit,
probably next year.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, speaking shortly after the
meeting, refused to be pinned down about any possible date.
Shortly after the meeting, Benedict held talks on the Middle East
situation with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.
It was not clear if the timing was a coincidence, but the meetings —
which followed one between the pope and the Syrian vice president on
Wednesday — came amid a flurry of new international diplomatic
initiatives on the Middle East.
A Vatican statement said the pope and Peres discussed recent talks
between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. It said the two
expressed hope that both sides would take advantage of the "current
international context that seems particularly favorable."
A U.S.-sponsored international conference is scheduled in November, and
Peres told reporters Thursday, "I'm a little more optimistic than ever
before because I can see a sign of light at the end of the tunnel
between us and the Palestinians."
He also said that ecological issues took up a good deal of his talks
with the pope, who has issued strong environmental appeals recently.
The 35-minute meeting between Benedict and Peres was the first since the
veteran statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate became president in
In separate discussions between Benedict and al-Faisal, the Saudi
foreign minister, both men said they hoped to launch "common initiatives
to favor peace," the Vatican said.
It was the first meeting between al-Faisal and Benedict. Even though
Saudi Arabia doesn't have diplomatic relations with the Holy See,
al-Faisal called on Pope John Paul II three times.
In a statement, the Vatican said the pope and al-Faisal discussed
regional conflicts, the political and religious situation in Saudi
Arabia, the defense of religious and moral values, the importance of
interreligious dialogue, and the assistance of people from different
religions to "promote understanding among men and people."
The Vatican has been campaigning for countries like Saudi Arabia to give
greater rights to Christian minorities.
Benedict raised a similar issue in his talks Wednesday with the Syrian
vice president, Farouk al-Sharaa, the Vatican said.