Pope Francis held an audience with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin on Thursday, where they exchanged gifts and discussed efforts to secure peace and to address the plight of Middle East Christians.
Pope Francis gave the Israeli president a new bronze medal at the Sept. 3 audience. On the medal was a depiction of a rock split into two parts, but joined by an olive tree. The medal bore the words: “Search for what unites. Overcome what divides.”
When the Pope gave the gift to Rivlin, he winked at the president. “There is some division, but the challenge is to unite,” Pope Francis said.
The audience focused on the political and social situation in the Middle East, giving “special attention” to the condition of Christians and other minorities, the Holy See press office reported.
“In this respect the importance of inter-religious dialogue was recognized, along with the responsibility of religious leaders in promoting reconciliation and peace,” said the press office, which described the discussions as cordial.
The meeting also highlighted the need to promote a climate of trust between Israelis and Palestinians. It focused on the resumption of direct negotiations that aimed at “an agreement respecting the legitimate aspirations of the two populations, as a fundamental contribution to peace and stability in the region,” the press office said.
The Holy See and Israel have disagreed over the status of Palestine; Israel has objected to the Holy See’s recognition of the State of Palestine in its negotiations with Palestinian leaders.
When Pope Francis greeted the president, he spoke in English: “Pray for me.”
The president responded: “I will see you in Israel.”
Rivlin gave the Pope a replica of the earliest mention of King David’s dynasty outside of the Bible. The words were carved on a basalt stone dating back to the eighth or ninth century B.C. The original is in the Museum of Israel.
“I think it is right that His Holiness has this gift to remember the common roots between Judaism and Christianity,” the Israeli president said when he presented the gift.
He also gave a plate with the inscription: “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.”
The Pope also gave the Israeli president a copy of his encyclical on the care of creation, Laudato Si’. He also presented him with his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, explaining: “This is for all Christians, but there is a chapter dedicated to dialogue with the Jews.”
The official Israeli delegation included the president’s wife. The Pope gave everyone in the delegation a medal for the third year of his pontificate, marking the 500th anniversary of St. Theresa of Avila’s birth.
Rivlin also met with the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States.
Other topics at the meeting included the relations between the Holy See and Israel, and between Israeli authorities and local Catholic communities. Both parties at the audience voiced hope for a prompt conclusion to the drafting of a bilateral agreement. They also hoped for an adequate solution for other matters of common interest, such as the situation of Christian schools in Israel.