Rivlin Meets With Pope Francis, Talks Church-run Schools and Peace

In the meeting at the Vatican, Israel's president also voiced his concern about growing anti-Semitism worldwide.

Rivlin meets Pope
President Rivlin met Pope Francis on Thursday at the pontiff's private library. (September 3, 2015) Reuters

President Reuven Rivlin met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday and briefed the pope on efforts to resolve a crisis over state funding for church-run schools.

Though the school year officially started on Tuesday, the church schools have remained closed, charging that a cut in state funding has left them financially unviable. Rivlin told the pope that all the parties concerned are making every effort to solve the problem as quickly as possible.

After a formal reception by the Vatican’s honor guard, Rivlin met with the pope for about an hour. Aside from the issue of the church schools, they also discussed the urgent need to restore trust between Israel and the Palestinians as a precondition for resuming direct negotiations.  

“I said to the Pope that I see in him a bridge, and asked of him to serve as such in the most difficult of places for mediation, where there no trust exists between the parties,” Rivlin said after the meeting.

During the meeting, Rivlin also voiced his concern about growing anti-Semitism worldwide. He said that calls for Israel’s destruction are rooted in anti-Semitism and ought to be denounced by the entire world.

The pope responded that anti-Semitism is a great evil and agreed that the desire to destroy Israel is rooted in anti-Semitism, Rivlin said.

Rivlin also told the pope about his boyhood memories of sneaking across the 1949 armistice line to visit the Western Wall – then under Jordanian control, and barred to Israelis – in order to hear the shofar blowing that concludes the Yom Kippur holiday. 

“There and then, I promised myself that I would fight so that no one should feel as I did then, and that I would do all within my power to ensure that the ability of each person to freely express their faith was an accepted fact," he said.

Rivlin gave the pope a replica of the Tel Dan inscription, an archaeological find that contains the earliest mention of the Davidic dynasty outside the Bible. The original inscription is in the Israel Museum. The replica was specially made for the pope in honor of this visit.

Later on Thursday, Rivlin was slated to meet with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and be the guest of honor at an event hosted by Italy’s Jewish community at the Great Synagogue in Rome.