Pope Francis on Saturday referred to Mahmoud Abbas as 'an angel of peace' as the Palestinian leader paid a visit to the Vatican to underscore the good relations between the territories and the Holy See.
The pontiff made the compliment during the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of an official audience in the Apostolic Palace, saying his present – a medallion representing the 'angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war' – was appropriate for the Palestinian president since 'you are an angel of peace'.
When Francis in 2014 visited Israel and the West Bank, he called both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres men of peace.
Abbas is in Rome for the canonisation 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 canonised 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 finalised a bilateral treaty with the 'state of Palestine' that made explicit its recognition of Palestinian statehood.
The Vatican said it had expressed 'great satisfaction' over the new treaty during 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.