VATICAN CITY, May 19 (UPI) -- Pope Francis' reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahoud Abbas as an "angel of peace" has caused a diplomatic furor.
The Pope either told Abbas, "You are an angel of peace" or "May you be an angel of peace," depending on whether the Italian verb he used was "sei" or "sia." The compliment, offered Saturday during a meeting at the Vatican, pleased Palestinians and angered Israeli and Jewish leaders.
The exhortation to aspire to the angelic was reported in the Italian press.
It came days after the Vatican and Palestine announced a treaty in which the "state of Palestine" is recognized, a diplomatic move opposed by Israel. The Vatican thus became the 135th nation to unofficially acknowledge Palestine's statehood; Sweden has formally recognized Palestine's statehood.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said the Pope's comments "came as a bolt of lightning to the Jewish community, given the admiration and expectations world Jewry has for this pope."
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi attempted to clarify the matter Sunday in a statement noting the pope often presents a bronze medallion, featuring an angel, to guests. Lombardi said the angel is representative of a "messenger;" hence, in speaking to Abbas in Italian as he offered the medallion, the Pope referred to Abbas as a messenger of peace.
"When the Pope presents the medal to the president or head of state, he offers a few words of explanation of the gift as well as an invitation to a commitment to peace on the part of the recipient. Each one of us must be for others and for the world an 'angel of peace.'"