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Israeli Ambassador to Rome Has Audience with the Pope

Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Avi Pazner, told Pope John Paul II in an audience last Friday that he hopes the Vatican will soon establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Though the Vatican seems in recent months to have warmed up to the idea of establishing ties with the Jewish state, there were no indications from Friday’s meeting that the Holy See is any closer to doing so.

The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, Monsignor Piero Pennacchini, called the meeting a “courtesy visit” and said it was “very cordial.”

The spokesman stressed, however, that “a visit to the pope by new ambassadors in Italy is normal practice.” Pazner, former media spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, took up his post in Rome last December.

He reportedly used his meeting with the pontiff to explain Israel’s point of view on the current Middle East peace dialogue and to express hope that relations between Israel and the Vatican might be “normalized” within its context.

The Vatican has never formally recognized Israel, citing differences over the status of Jerusalem as a major reason. But there have been recent hints of change.

Cardinal John O’Connor, the archbishop of New York, told a group of Jewish leaders there last week that he sensed “a reaching out” from the Holy See to Israel.

According to O’Connor, who visited Israel in December, the Vatican is increasingly interested in establishing diplomatic ties with the Jewish state and is looking for reciprocal signs.

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