Pope Francis’ Abbas ‘angel’ statement sparks angry debate

Pope Francis and President Mahmoud Abbas greet each other in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican (AP)

Pope Francis has again courted controversy over Palestine, this time in what has become an argument over semantics, where some believe he appeared to describe President Mahmoud Abbas as an “an angel of peace,” U.S. daily the New York Times has reported.

The linguistic confusion comes just days after the pope said Palestine should be recognized as a state and the canonizing of two Palestinian nuns.

The confusion surrounds whether Pope Francis told the Palestinian president “You are an angel of peace” or “May you be an angel of peace” while handing Abbas a medal.

According to the New York Times the debate is the result of the difference between two Italian verbs: ‘sei’ meaning “you are,” and “sia” which translates into English, as “may you be.”

This confusion has sparked fury among pro-Israeli and Jewish leaders around the world, including Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi said in a statement, the medal Abbas received “represents an angel of peace.”

He said the Pope was only explaining what the medal stood for “as an invitation to a commitment to peace on the part of the recipient.”

And he played down the use of the word “angel,” which he said in this context meant “messenger.”

The Reverend said the words the pope used were “marginal,” and “what [the pope] says in private conversations are not official declarations, so they are not officially documented.”

The story has been reported differently by the world’s media. The Italian news agency ANSA, the Associated Press (AP), and The New York Times reported that the Pope said Abbas was “an angel of peace.”

Meanwhile other Italian publications reported the pope’s statement as “May you be an angel of peace.”

Commenting on the confusion, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, , said these details were marginal in light of the Vatican’s recognition of a Palestinian state.

“Either way,’ she said, “the analogy and connection is there.”

Last Update: 06:45 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45