The Pope has been asked to launch next year’s Giro D’Italia cycling race, which is due to start for the first time next year in Jerusalem.
Pope Francis was handed the invitation from Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with organisers of the Israeli leg of the race on Thursday night.
Mr Netanyahu said in the letter a papal launch would be an important moment in the 70th anniversary celebrations of Israel’s founding.
“The fact that the Giro starts in Jerusalem and ends in Rome bears special symbolism, reflected in the historic document ‘Between Jerusalem and Rome,’ a copy of which was presented to Your Holiness on August 31,” Mr Netanyahu wrote.
The 2018 Giro D’Italia route will begin in Jerusalem and take cyclists through Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Negev desert before ending in Eilat. The riders will then transfer to Italy, where there will be 18 further stages.
Sylvan Adams, honorary president of “Big Start Israel”, which is organising the Israeli stages, said:
“Israel and specifically its capital, Jerusalem, is an important center of all three Abrahamic faiths, where we must daily demonstrate our ability to live together in this tiny geography.
“The upcoming race in Israel is further testimony to the power of sport to transcend politics and division and focus solely on sportsmanship. “
Next year’s race will be the 101st edition of the Giro. Previous “Big Starts” have brought the excitement of the Giro to the Netherlands, Denmark, Northern Ireland and Belgium.
Next year’s Israeli stages will be the first time that any of cycling’s three Grand Tour races – the Giro, the Tour de France or the Vuelta a Espana – has been held outside Europe.