Israel Invites Pope Francis to the Holy Land

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli President Shimon Peres congratulated Pope Francis on his election and invited him to visit Israel.

"The newly elected Pope represents devotion, the love of God, the love of peace, a holy modesty, and a new continent which is now awakening," Peres said during a meeting with leaders of the Catholic Church in Poland at his Jerusalem residence.

"We need, more than ever, a spiritual leadership and not just a political one. Where political leaders may divide, spiritual leaders may unite. Unite around a vision, unite around values, unite around a faith that we can make the world a better place to live. May the Lord Bless the new Pope," he continued.

"I would like to take this opportunity to invite the newly elected Pope to pay a visit to the Holy Land at the earliest possibility. He'll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land as a man of inspiration who can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area," he added. "All people here, without exception, without difference of religion or nationality, will welcome the newly elected Pope."

Peres said the relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people are "at their best in the last 2,000 years," adding that he hopes "they will grow in content and depth."

Peres also said he had "much respect" for Pope Benedict and found him "a dear friend of our people."

"I have much respect for the resigned Pope Benedict. I found him a dear friend of our people, a profound thinker and he really contributed so much to bringing together, historically and otherwise, the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people," Peres said.

"I'm sure that the new Pope Francis will continue. He will remind all of us, as a shepherd of our time, that the Lord loves the poor, not only the mighty, that the Lord calls us to peace not for hatred, that the Lord calls us to serve each other, to build a world where people are together without hatred," he concluded.

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