.- Israeli president Shimon Peres has extended an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit Israel in 2009 and he is considering the offer, according to the Vatican’s spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.
Speaking to the press on Thursday in Rome, Fr. Lombardi reacted to an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that stated that Pope Benedict has indeed accepted an offer to visit the Holy Land in the second week of May, 2009.
While not denying that discussions are under way, Fr. Lombardi did not confirm the specifics. "I can confirm that contacts exist at a diplomatic level between the Holy See and Israel to study the possibility of a trip by the Pope to the Holy Land next year," he said.
The article in Ha’aretz also claimed that the Pope will visit the Palestinian territories by stopping in Bethlehem.
The prospect of a papal visit would likely be welcomed by both sides, since tensions have been somewhat strained in recent months as the Vatican celebrated the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII.
Some Jewish organizations launched a campaign against the beatification of Pope Pius XII, arguing that it would negatively impact relations between Judaism and the Church. The argument is based on the "black legend," which attempts to paint him as an "accomplice" to the wholesale slaughter of Jews by the Nazis during World War II.
The Holy See maintains that the late Pope did everything he could to save Jews from the Nazis during World War II, citing the fact that he sheltered thousands of Jews in 155 of Rome’s convents and monasteries.
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