Pope Francis held two private audiences on Thursday morning, one with the ex-President of Israel, Shimon Peres, and another with Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. The Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, briefed journalists on the audiences. “Peres,” explained Fr. Lombardi, “asked for the audience in order to inform the Pope about his activities and his projects for peace,” which include a joint youth sporting initiative involving “twinned” Israeli and Palestinian cities, in which more than eighty children will participate during the course of the year, and a “United Religions” organization modelled on the United Nations.
Speaking to Vatican Radio after the audiences and the briefing, Fr. Lombardi said that the audience with the former Israeli president lasted roughly forty-five minutes, during which time “The Holy Father expressed all his attention, his respect for President Peres’s initiative, and guaranteed the attention of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, which are particularly committed to [peacebuilding and religious-cultural understanding], most especially the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with Cardinals Tauran and Turkson [at their respective heads].”
About the former president’s proposal for a “United Religions” organization, Fr. Lombardi said that it was a topic discussed during the audience, and an occasion also to revisit the historic meeting at the Vatican, in which then-President Peres participated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “The prayer for peace initiative which took place here at the Vatican, with the participation of Peres and [Abbas],” said Fr. Lombardi, “is in no wise to be considered a failure – subsequent developments notwithstanding – but rather as the opening of a door that remains open, through which initiatives and values can be encouraged to develop and go forward - something that Pope Francis stressed to me following the audience, in agreement with President Peres.”
The audience with Prince Hassan of Jordan was of equal importance and similar scope, with the Prince presenting the work of the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue, of which the prince is founder and co-chairman, as well as the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, of which the prince is also a founder. “The activity of the Foundation, of the Institute that [Prince Hassan] has founded,” said Fr. Lombardi, “is entirely directed toward interreligious dialogue and commitment to peace, in the current context of violence: the importance of dialogue among the religions for human dignity and peace, to helping the poor in the time of globalilzation, to the education of young people in fraternity, to insistence on respect and on the dignity of persons.”
Fr. Lombardi also briefed journalists on a wide array of other topics, including the meeting of the Council for the Economy – taking place all day Thursday in order to examine technical legal issues associated with the reform of the Vatican’s financial and administrative institutions – and the possibility of a meeting between the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, and the head of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, which Fr. Lombardi was able to confirm is being planned, though a firm date has not yet been set for it.