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May 18, 2015 10:29 am

For First Time: Vatican Flies Palestinian Flag to Greet PA Chairman Abbas

avatar by David Daoud

For the first time, the Vatican flew the Palestinian flag, as it welcomed a visit by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. PHOTO: CNS Photo/Paul Haring.

The Palestinian flag was officially raised in the Vatican for the first time on Saturday, when Pope Francis received Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The meeting between Abbas and the Pope, and the highly symbolic display of the flag, occurred a few days after the Vatican referred to the “state of Palestine” in an official document.

Pope Francis encouraged the PA president to be an “angel of peace,” during the private meeting between the two, which lasted for 20 minutes. The leaders also discussed the future of relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican, and exchanged gifts.

The meeting also preceded the Vatican’s canonization of two Palestinian-Arab nuns, Maryam Haddad (1846-1878)  and Mary Alfonsine Ghattas (1843-1927), a further sign of warming relations between the Catholic Church and the Palestinian Authority. With their canonization, the two nuns became the first Arabic-speaking Catholic saints.

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Abbas expressed his thanks to Pope Francis and the Catholic Church for bestowing sainthood on the nuns, saying the move demonstrated the Holy See’s “awareness and attention to the virtue which grew out of the Land of Palestine, for it is not a land of war, but a land of virtue and holiness, as God intended it to be.”

Abbas also used the occasion to push a nationalist agenda, noting the proximity of the Pope’s canonization of the nuns “to the commemoration of our people’s ‘Nakba’ in 1948.” The term “Nakba” – Arabic for “disaster” – is used by Palestinians and other Arabs to describe the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent emergence of the Palestinian refugee crisis.

Abbas said that the canonization of the two nuns, which he called “an inspirational message,” would strengthen Palestinian unity and “confirms that we are one people, who strive together to build an independent, free and sovereign Palestine.”

He added that the Palestinians must take inspiration from the actions of the two nuns, and, “go down their path towards the State which we strive for, whose capital will be Jerusalem.”

Last Wednesday, the Vatican announced that it would sign its first treaty with the “state of Palestine.” While the agreement primarily related to the status of the Catholic Church and its activities in the Palestinian territories, it also included an official recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

Israel’s foreign ministry expressed its disappointment over the agreement’s usage of the phrase, “state of Palestine,” saying such recognition outside of the framework of bilateral negotiations between the two sides hindered progress toward genuine peace.

Monseigneur Antoine Camilleri,  the Holy See’s current undersecretary for relations with states, commented that the agreement expressed the Vatican’s hope for “the attainment of a solution to the Palestinian issue and the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians in the context of two states.”

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