Vatican City, Sep 28, 2016 / 08:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Upon learning about the death of Shimon Peres Wednesday, Pope Francis sent a telegram offering his condolences and his appreciation for the former president of Israel's tireless efforts for peace and the common good.
“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.”
In the Sept. 28 telegram, sent to current President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, 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 favor of peace,” he said.
Pope Francis met with the former president and prime minister at the Vatican on several occasions, the most recent being June 20. On June 8, 2014, Pope Francis met with then-Israeli President Peres and the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I in the gardens of the Vatican for a meeting of prayer, “Invocation for Peace.” At this meeting, Peres made a heart-felt appeal for peace, saying, “I come to call for peace between nations.” He acknowledged that “peace does not come easy.” Even if peace “seems distant,” the then-Israeli president continued, “we must pursue it to bring it close.”
“We are commanded to pursue peace,” he emphasized. Peres expressed his belief that “if we pursue peace with determination, with faith, we will reach it.” He recalled that in his life, he had seen both peace and warfare. He said he would never forget the devastation caused by war. “We owe it to our children” to seek peace, he stressed.
The Pope and Peres also met a month earlier in 2014, on May 26, when Pope Francis expressed his hope that Jerusalem would be a true 'city of peace,' and Peres echoed this commitment. “May Jerusalem be truly the City of Peace! May her identity and her sacred character, her universal religious and cultural significance shine forth as a treasure for all mankind,” Pope Francis said in the garden of the then-president's residence.
First elected to Israeli parliament in 1959, Peres would go on to serve three times as prime minister, and once as president. Peres developed Israel’s nuclear program in the 1950s. He also ordered a major bombing campaign against Lebanon in retaliation for Hezbollah shelling in northern Israel in 1996.
However, he was also known for his peace efforts, playing a major role in the Oslo peace accords and winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create peace between Israel and Palestine. He had initially approved the construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. However, he later shifted his view, saying that the settlements were a hindrance on the road to peace.
In his telegram today, the Pope said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of Peres' death and conveyed to President Rivlin and to all the people of Israel his “heartfelt condolences,” and prayers for all who grieve. Pope Francis also invoked the divine blessing upon the nation of Israel. Using Peres' life as inspiration, the Pope said, “In this way, his legacy will truly be honored and the common good for which he so diligently labored will find new expressions, as humanity strives to advance on the path towards enduring peace.”