Embarrassment as Netanyahu misses out on Pope meeting

Pope Francis I will not be meeting Netanyahu in Rome

Pope Francis I will not be meeting Netanyahu in Rome

Amid growing signs that Pope Francis I is seeking better and closer ties with global Jewry, a meeting between the pontiff and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was called off this week after the Vatican said it had not been aware of any such appointment.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu’s office announced the prime minister would be meeting Pope Francis this Wednesday, ahead of his discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome.

But the Vatican said that this meeting had never been scheduled. On Sunday, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See was officially informed that the two leaders would not be meeting.

Mr Netanyahu’s office responded in a statement: “As opposed to what was claimed, a meeting was planned this week between the prime minister and the Pope during his trip in Italy, but due to a scheduling conflict, it was postponed."

Speculation now mounts as to whether Pope Francis will visit Israel in 2014 – something that has been suggested by both parties, but never officially confirmed.

Despite this embarrassing episode for the Israeli government, the new pontiff appears to be making every effort to cultivate a better relationship with Jews.

In a meeting with Rome’s Jewish community earlier this month, which fell just days before the 70th anniversary of the Nazi deportation of the city’s Jews, the Pope said: “It’s a contradiction that a Christian is antisemitic: his roots are Jewish.”

He added: “Let antisemitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman.”

The Pope told his audience, which included the Chief Rabbi of Rome and the president of the Jewish Community, that he had shared a “closeness and friendship” with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires – something he hoped to replicate in Rome.

The pontiff’s remarks preceded a week of uproar in Italy following former SS officer Erich Priebke’s death and a subsequent controversy over where to bury him.

After he died, the Vatican issued a ban on any Catholic church in Rome holding his funeral, prompting the Society of St Pius X to offer to hold the ceremony in the nearby town of Albano Laziale.

But the funeral was cancelled at the last minute after hundreds of locals rioted in protest and broke into the compound where the funeral was due to take place.

Meanwhile, last week, the Pope corresponded with an American professor whose parents survived the Holocaust.

Menachem Rosensaft sent a sermon and a personal note to the Vatican in which he said God’s presence gave his parents the strength to emerge from a Nazi concentration camp alive.

The Pope responded to Mr Rosensaft in an email that said: “When you, with humility, are telling us where God was in that moment, I felt within me that you had transcended all possible explanations and that, after a long pilgrimage —sometimes sad, tedious or dull – you came to discover a certain logic”.

He added: “Thank you from my heart. And, please, do not forget to pray for me. May the Lord bless you.”

Last updated: 3:29pm, October 21 2013