On Saturday, Palestinian president, Mahmud Abbas met with Pope Benedict XVI, who called for an end to violence in the tension-ridden Holy Land.
Following their 20-minute meeting in the Pope‘s private library, Abbas invited the Holy Father to visit the Holy Land, saying that he would “be very welcome in Jerusalem and all the holy places."
The Palestinian leader later told reporters that the Pope “responded positively” to his invitation but did not indicate a possible visit date.
Israeli president Moshe Katsav also invited the Holy Father to visit the Holy Land during his visit last month.
In a statement released today, Vatican Press Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that during "the course of the cordial meeting, consideration was given to the situation in the Middle East. Particular emphasis was laid on the need to integrate all elements of the Palestinian people into the peace process.”
Some speculate that this was a reference, on the Pope’s part, to violent extremists who have been blamed for widespread terrorism in the region. Last week, violence marred national Palestinian elections.
Abbas noted in his statements to journalists that the Pope, with "his symbolic weight ... can carry out a decisive role for peace."
Navarro-Valls said that the Pope also addressed “difficulties faced by Catholics in Palestine, and… their contribution to Palestinian society.”
During the meeting, one of the members of the Palestinian delegation presented the Pope with a document, which Abbas said was created by inhabitants of Bethlehem, in an effort "to express the ties of friendship and spirituality that link the Vatican and the people of Bethlehem, dear to Christians as Jesus' birthplace."
In 1982, Pope John Paul II met with then-Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat--the first of many such meetings which sparked protests and violent outrage on the part of Israelis and the worldwide Jewish community.
Nevertheless, the late Pope worked tirelessly to champion the plight of Palestinians, while working to increase healthy relations with Israel.
It is the hope and expectation of many, that Pope Benedict will continue to build and nurture this difficult balance.