Former president Shimon Peres emerged from a Vatican City audience with Pope Francis Thursday after proposing a kind of United Nations for religions.
Peres, 91, who was the world’s oldest head of state until his term ended six weeks ago, met with Francis amid heightened tensions in the Middle East. He used the talks to highlight human rights abuses from Hamas and to discuss the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. But the main topic of conversation was Peres’s idea to create a UN-like organization he called “the United Religions.”
Peres said the Argentina-born pontiff was the only world figure respected enough to bring an end to the wars raging in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed to reporters that Peres had pitched his idea for “the United Religions” but said Francis did not commit to it. “The pope listened, showing his interest, attention, and encouragement,” Lombardi said, adding that the pope pointed to the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue and for Justice and Peace as existing agencies “suitable” for supporting interfaith peace initiatives.
Lombardi said Francis praised Peres as a “man of peace,” and said the unusually long meeting was a reflection of the pope’s “deep esteem and appreciation” for the former Israeli leader.
But Peres praised Francis as the only world figure respected across national boundaries and different faiths. In an interview with the Catholic Magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Peres called on Francis to leverage his respect to create an interfaith organization to curb religious violence.
“What we need is an organization of United Religions... as the best way to combat terrorists who kill in the name of faith,” Peres said. “What we need is an unquestionable moral authority who says out loud, ‘No, God does not want this and does not allow it.’” After meeting with Peres, Francis held a 30-minute closeddoor meeting with Jordanian Prince El-Hassan bin Talal, who sponsors the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies to promote religious dialogue. Lombardi said that meeting dovetailed into the day’s topic of interfaith cooperation and peace.