By Sean Savage/JNS.org
Controversy is swirling over conflicting reports as to whether or not Pope Francis called Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas an “angel of peace” during a meeting at the Vatican on Saturday, May 16. Pope Francis met with Abbas at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, where he presented the PA leader with a bronze medallion and explained that it represented the “angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war,” purportedly adding it was appropriate because “you are an angel of peace.”
The pontiff’s statement drew criticism from the Israeli government. “Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said. “It is regrettable that Mahmoud Abbas uses international forums to attack Israel and refrains from returning to negotiation, which is the right way to implement a diplomatic vision and a solution of peace.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who was present at the meeting between Abbas and Pope Francis, sought to clarify the exchange. He explained that the pontiff often gives foreign leaders a bronze medallion representing the angel of peace and that the pontiff merely meant to encourage a commitment to peace through his comments.
The Vatican also drew scrutiny last week for using the term “State of Palestine” in an official treaty with the Palestinians, leading many to question the pope’s commitment to Israel and a negotiated two-state solution. “We believe that this action by the Vatican, like similar moves by other countries, serves to undermine the prospects for peace, which can only be achieved by direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” said Robert Sugarman, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
It wasn’t the first time the pope found himself in the pro-Israel community’s crosshairs. During a visit to Israel, Jordan, and the disputed Palestinian territories last year, Pope Francis was criticized for an unscheduled prayer stop at the security fence separating Israel and Bethlehem. The stop led to a controversial photo-op in which the pontiff touched the fence next to anti-Israel graffiti, essentially giving fodder to pro-Palestinian activists who use the fence as a symbol of their movement.