JERUSALEM (Dec. 28)
President Yitzhak Navon has extended an informal invitation to Pope John Paul II to visit Israel and its holy places. Addressing a reception for Christian community leaders on the occasion of Christmas, Navon recalled that the Pope had expressed a desire to visit the holy places in his own Christmas address this year.
“I am certain that I express the feelings of both the people and the government of Israel when I say that it would give us great pleasure to see His Holiness among us and to receive him with the respect and honor that is due him,” Navon told the Christian dignitaries. However, a source close to the President said an official invitation would not be sent to the Pope unless there is a more definite indication that he plans to visit the holy places.
Speaking later at a symposium on interfaith relations in Israel, Navon said that one of the conditions for peace in the Middle East was a greater understanding of the region’s culture by Israelis. “It is no mere coincidence that there is such a wide cultural gap between Jews and Arabs despite their common origin,” he said. “It is no mere coincidence that many underestimate the language spoken by Jews who came from Islamic countries.”
Navon also observed that the encounter between Israelis and Egyptians after a peace treaty is signed would present many problems. The Egyptians, who for years regarded Israelis as monsters, will have to learn to regard them as human beings, he said. “But our problem will be to face a rich culture which we do not yet know.” Yosef Emmanuel, secretary of the Interfaith Committee, said his organization is trying to establish direct ties with Moslem personalities and organizations in the Arab countries.