Pope Francis has sent a message of condolence to Israel following the death of Shimon Peres but will not travel to Israel for the former president's funeral due to his scheduled visit to Georgia, report The Catholic Herald and Catholic News Agency.
“As the State of Israel mourns Mr Peres,” the Pope wrote, “I hope that his memory and many years of service will inspire us all to work with ever greater urgency for peace and reconciliation between peoples.”
The Pontiff expressed hope that the work which Peres, 93, began during his lifetime will continue. “I fondly recall my time with Mr Peres at the Vatican and renew my great appreciation for the late president's tireless efforts in favour of peace,” he said.
Although Israel's Foreign Ministry said Francis was expected to attend the funeral, along with US President Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Prince Charles, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Vatican has announced the Pope’s scheduled visit to Georgia will go ahead as planned on Friday.
Peres, a Nobel peace laureate, was a respected statesman and a frequent participant at international conferences. The former Israeli president and prime minister died yesterday, two weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 93.
In an unprecedented seven-decade political career, Peres filled nearly every position in Israeli public life and was credited with leading the country through some of its most defining moments, from creating what is believed to be a nuclear arsenal in the 1950s, to disentangling its troops from Lebanon and rescuing its economy from triple-digit inflation in the 1980s, to guiding a sceptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.
Mr Obama praised Peres as a statesman whose commitment to Israel’s security and the pursuit of peace “was rooted in his own unshakeable moral foundation and unflagging optimism.”
In 2014, Pope Francis welcomed Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to the Vatican.
Francis had also met Peres earlier that year during his visit to the Holy Land, with their most recent meeting taking place at the Vatican in June of this year.
Photo: Pope Francis and Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in 2014 (AP)
Vatican: Georgia visit prevents Pope Francis from attending funeral of Shimon Peres (The Catholic Herald)
Pope laments Peres’ death (Vatican Insider)