Pope Francis: Abbas Is an 'Angel of Peace'

Meeting with Palestinian leader comes days after Vatican finalized treaty with the 'state of Palestine', explicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Pope Francis with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican Saturday, May 16, 2015.
Pope Francis with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican Saturday, May 16, 2015. AP

Pope Francis praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an "angel of peace" during a meeting Saturday at the Vatican that underscored the Holy See's warm relations with the Palestinians.

Francis made the compliment during the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of an official audience in the Apostolic Palace. He presented Abbas with a medallion and explained that it represented the "angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war."

Francis said he thought the gift was appropriate since "you are an angel of peace." During his 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank, Francis called both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres men of peace.

Abbas is in Rome for the canonization Sunday of two 19th-century nuns from what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine. The new saints, Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, are the first from the region to be canonized since the early days of Christianity.

Abbas on Saturday offered Francis relics of the two new saints.

Church officials are holding up the new saints as a sign of hope and encouragement for Christians in the Middle East at a time when violent persecution from Islamic extremists has driven many Christians from the region of Christ's birth.

Abbas' visit also comes days after the Vatican for the first time used the term "the state of Palestine," as part of a new treaty with the Palestinian Authority centering on the Catholic Church's activities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The Vatican said it had expressed "great satisfaction" over the new treaty during the talks with the Palestinian delegation. It said the pope, and later the Vatican secretary of state, also expressed hopes that direct peace talks with Israel would resume.

"To this end, the wish was reiterated that with the support of the international community, Israelis and Palestinians may take with determination courageous decisions to promote peace," a Vatican statement said.

It added that interreligious dialogue was needed to combat terrorism.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that if Israel persists in ignoring the Palestinian issue, the Palestinians will proceed with internationalizing the conflict, including turning to the International Criminal Court.

In a speech marking Nakba Day, one day after Israel's new government was sworn in, Abbas said that "if this government continues with the same conduct we've witnessed in recent years, we'll proceed with the internationalization of the conflict, with all the repercussions such a move entails."