VATICAN CITY, NOV. 17, 2005 (Zenit.org).- President Moshe Katsav, on the first official visit by a head of the state of Israel to the Vatican, invited Benedict XVI to go the Holy Land.
Katsav later told the press that he hopes the papal visit can take place next year. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon already invited the new Pope to visit the country last July.
Katsav made his statements today at the military airport of Ciampino, after his audience with the Holy Father and a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
The Israeli president told journalists that his audience with the Benedict XVI and his meeting with Cardinal Sodano were “cordial, free and open.”
The president thanked the Pope for his visit to the Cologne synagogue in Germany last August, during World Youth Day, as well as for his numerous gestures in favor of the state of Israel.
Katsav gave the Pope some framed photos of mosaics recently discovered in the archaeological site considered the oldest church in the Holy Land.
According to the president, Benedict XVI said he would like to visit the site of the church, in the northern Israeli town of Megiddo, near the biblical Armageddon, when he visits Israel.
The Holy Father gave Katsav a picture with a reproduction of the Second Vatican Council declaration “Nostra Aetate,” a document which marked a radical change in relations between Jews and Catholics, and a reproduction of Pope John Paul II’s signed address, delivered during his visit to Auschwitz.
The audience lasted some 25 minutes, at the end of which the president introduced his wife and entourage to the Pope in German.
Regarding relations with the Church, Katsav told journalists he would do everything possible to “speed up” the solution to controversies over the Church’s properties in Israel.
Eleven years after the Holy See established diplomatic relations with Israel, the Church continues to wait for the state to put into practice its commitment to recognize the legal personality of the Catholic institutions in the country.
On several occasions, Israeli jurisdictional entities have denied executive value to the Fundamental Agreement that regulates Church-state relations. Last year the government told the Supreme Court of Israel that it does not recognize the obligations stemming from that agreement.
Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, explained that in the meetings attended today by the Israeli president in the Vatican, “attention was given to the relations that have developed between Israel and the Holy See, since the start of diplomatic ties between the two parties in 1994.”
“Particular consideration was reserved for the implementation of the agreements thus-far signed between Israel and the Holy See: the Fundamental Agreement of 1993, and the Legal Personality Agreement of 1997,” he affirmed in a press note.
“On the subject of the current situation in the Holy Land, the Holy See’s position in favor of the existence of and collaboration between the two states, Israel and Palestine, was again expounded to the illustrious guest,” the Vatican spokesman said.
“A large part of the discussions,” he added, “were also given over to the possibility of more intense collaboration in the humanitarian field, especially in Africa, and in cultural matters.”