World Jewish Congress officials met with Pope Benedict XVI and separately with senior Italian officials, praising Italy for its support of Israel.
WJC President Ronald Lauder told Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in their meeting Friday that the Jewish world “deeply appreciates” its “important and well-established friendship with the Italian government” and also appreciates “Italian attention to the safety of the people of Israel.” Italy, Lauder later said, “has a key role in advancing the peace process in the Middle East.”
During the meeting, Frattini, who on a visit to Israel last month referred to Italy as Israel’s “best friend” in Europe, awarded Lauder the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.
The WJC delegation also had an audience at the Vatican on Friday with the pope and senior Vatican officials involved in interfaith relations. According to Vatican Radio, the WJC group “thanked the Pope for his commitment to dialogue with Jews,” and discussed aspects of the situation in the Middle East.
In a related development, the Vatican released a statement Friday describing a “good and open atmosphere” in Thursday’s latest round of talks aimed at finalizing bilateral economic relations between Israel and the Holy See. The talks, held in Jerusalem, started with mention of the telegram the pope sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing his “prayers and solidarity” with victims of the recent forest fire and his appreciation of the “selfless dedication” of those involved in the rescue operation.