By ISRAEL HAYOM—
President Shimon Peres will meet with the new head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, next week, during a state visit to Italy. Peres will leave for Rome on Monday, for a visit that also includes meetings with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, newly elected Prime Minister Enrico Letta, and local Jewish leaders.
The president will discuss expanding Israel and Italy’s strategic, technological and economic relations and Europe’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; as well as the Iranian threat and the need to increase the diplomatic pressure and international sanctions imposed on Tehran.
A statement by the President’s Office said Wednesday that the pope invited Peres to visit the Vatican after the diplomatic leg of his visit. The Israeli Nobel Peace laureate would be among the first world leaders to visit the new pope, who took office in March.
The statement said Peres plans to discuss various issues with the pontiff, including the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, ties between Israel and the Vatican and improving relations between Christians and Jews.
While in Italy, Peres also plans to visit Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi — the Italian patron saint of animals and the environment, whose name Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio assumed upon becoming pope.
Peres will be welcomed in Assisi with a special ceremony at the city’s central basilica, during which Franciscan monks will award him with the Medal of Honor for Peace and with the Key to the City, “in recognition of his unique contribution to dialogue and the cause of peace,” the statement said.
The Vatican and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1993.