‘Friendship between Italy, Israel historic and strong’
President Reuven Rivlin met Thursday with Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella and Pope Francis. The meetings were held as part of the Israeli president’s first state visit to Italy.
Rivlin and Mattarella met at the Quirinal Palace, the Italian President’s Residence, and discussed Israel-Italy relations, as well as the West’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Welcoming Rivlin to Italy, Mattarella said, “You are a friend, and you are welcomed to Rome as one. The friendship between Italy and Israel is historic and strong, and it will only get stronger in the future.”
Addressing the nuclear agreement inked between world powers and Iran on July 14, Mattarella said, “We understand Israel’s concerns over the nuclear deal, but we believe it is the best solution.”
Rivlin met with Francis at the Vatican on Thursday morning, prior to his meeting with Mattarella. According to the Office of the President, the meeting took place in the pope’s private library and lasted about an hour.
The two discussed many issues, including the pope’s contribution to mediation efforts in global conflicts and in the Middle East, recent vandalism of Christian sites in Israel by Jewish extremists, and the need to rebuild trust between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and reignite the stalled peace process.
Rivlin shared with the pope his concerns over the rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, stressing that any call for the destruction of Israel must be denounced by the international community.
The pope echoed the sentiment, saying anti-Semitism was a major problem and that anyone questioning Israel’s right to exist was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Rivlin noted that this was “a significant statement by the pope.”
During their meeting, Rivlin gifted the pontiff with a stone tablet bearing the Aramaic inscription “House of David,” highlighted in gold — a replica of a stele found at the entrance of the ancient city of Dan, in northern Israel, dating back to the ninth century BCE.
“I wish to present you with this inscription, as a symbol of hope and living together for all faiths,” Rivlin said.
Francis warmly thanked the president for what he noted was a moving and symbolic gift.
The Office of the President said the gift was chosen as “an expression of the deep roots shared by Judaism and Christianity, and as King David is regarded by both Judaism and Christianity as the founder of the House of David, revered in tradition as being the House from which redemption of humanity would come, and from whom the Messiah would be descended.”
The pope presented Rivlin with a bronze coin, bearing an image of intertwined olive branches, symbolizing the shared responsibility of all states and nations to strive for peace. The coin bears a personal dedication to the president, reading, “To seek that which unites, and to overcome that which divides.”
Following the meeting with the pope, Rivlin said, “I met a man who is more than the religious leader of over a billion people worldwide; I met a true spiritual and moral leader.”
Following his meeting with the pontiff, the president met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of the Holy See.
As part of Rivlin’s three-day visit to Rome, he is also scheduled to attend a function hosted by the leaders of the Italian capital’s Jewish community, at the Great Synagogue of Rome.
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