Middle East

Vatican clarifies Abbas ‘angel of peace’ comments

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with Pope Francis at the Vatican (16 May 2015) Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Mahmoud Abbas visited the Vatican for the canonisation of two Palestinian nuns

The Vatican has clarified comments made by Pope Francis to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday.

Journalists from leading news agencies reported that the Pope called Mr Abbas "an angel of peace" when giving him a bronze medallion representing one.

But an Italian newspaper says he merely expressed hope that the president might one day become an angel of peace.

The Vatican's spokesman said he did not hear the exact words, but that they had been meant as an "encouragement".

Reports of the Pope's remarks caused a storm on social media, with some Twitter users accusing the media of deliberately misquoting him.

Private audience

The Pope often presents heads of state with a bronze medallion representing an "angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war" and did so after a private audience with Mr Abbas at the Vatican.

Journalists from the Associated Press, Reuters and AFP news agencies who were present reported that while handing over the medallion the Pope told the Palestinian leader: "It is appropriate because you are an angel of peace."

However, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that Mr Abbas had actually been told: "May the angel of peace destroy the evil spirit of war. I thought of you: may you be an angel of peace".

Neither the Vatican's website nor its official news agency subsequently published a definitive quote, and on Monday Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said he was unable to confirm Pope Francis's exact words.

However, Fr Lombardi said it was clear that he had meant that "each of us must be an angel of peace for others".

"I was present at the audience but I did not hear the Pope's exact words," he told AFP. "The sense of encouragement seems clear to me, and this gift is presented to many presidents, not just Abbas."

The controversy comes as the Vatican prepares to formally recognise Palestinian statehood in a treaty. Israel has expressed disappointment at the move, which it says will discourage the Palestinians from resuming peace talks.

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