Pope describes Palestinian leader as ‘an angel of peace’

Mahmoud Abbas in Rome for canonisation ceremony of 19th century Palestinian nuns

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience at the Vatican. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/EPA

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience at the Vatican. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/EPA

 

Pope Francis this morning called Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, an “angel of peace”. The Pope made his remarks at the end of a 20 minute long meeting with the president of the Palestinian state in the Apostolic Palace.

President Abbas is in Rome this weekend to attend a canonisation ceremony tomorrow in the Vatican when Pope Francis will elevate two 19th century Palestinian nuns to sainthood. His audience with the Pope this morning also follows the mid-week announcement of an agreement between the Holy See and Palestine, in relation to the fiscal and legal status of Catholic facilities and personnel on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The current good relationship between the two states was underlined by the warm greeting between the two men on the threshold of the Pontifical Library, with Mr Abbas telling the 78-year-old Pope that he looks “younger”. Later, when the two men exchanged gifts after their meeting, the Pope gave the Palestinian president a medal of St. Martin of Tours, saying:

“He is an Angel of peace who destroys the bad spirits of war and I thought of you...you are an angel of peace...”

In a communiqué, the Holy See said that in their talks, the Pope and Mr Abbas had not only expressed their satisfaction with this week’s agreement but had also spoken of the currently stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Both men expressed the hope that the parties find a “just and lasting solution” to the conflict.

With observers pointing out that Wednesday’s agreement marks yet another de facto recognition of the Palestinian State by the Holy See, the new accord inevitably received a frosty reception in Israel:

“Israel heard with disappointment the decision of the Holy See to agree a final formulation of an agreement with the Palestinians including the use of the term ‘Palestinian State’,” said an Israeli foreign ministry official.

“Such a development does not further the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct bilateral negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next step.”

Security and Self-determination

Although the Holy See formally and informally recognised the “State of Palestine” in November 2012 when Palestinians were granted non-member observer status to the UN, this week’s treaty underlines that recognition once again. However, Holy See insiders point out that this in no way represents a change of policy by the Vatican which, throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has favoured a two state solution which offers both security guarantees to Israel and self-determination for the Palestinians.

In an interview with Vatican daily, “L’Osservatore Romano”, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, the Holy See’s deputy Foreign Minister, this week expressed the hope that this treaty could contribute to a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestine question, adding:

“The accord could, even in an indirect way, help the Palestinians in the establishment and recognition of an independent, sovereign and democratic State of Palestine.”

Clearly, tomorrow’s canonisation of the two 19th century nuns, Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem and Mariam Bawardy of Galilee, assumes huge symbolic importance. Not only are they the first Palestinian Arabs in modern times to reach sainthood, but their canonisation represents an important boost for all Christians in the Middle East.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twad, this week called the “canonisation of the two girls from the East during these dark times” a “grand event”, adding:

“We view this grand event...as a message of solidarity and encouragement to the Christians of the Holy Land...and from all other Middle East countries, a message to all those who have been forcibly displaced and deported from their home countries and to all those who suffer from persecution...”