Israeli President Reuven Rilvin was welcomed Thursday morning in the Vatican, at the start of his first official state visit as president.
The President was received by Prefect of the Papal Household, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, before going on to hold a private meeting with Pope Francis, after which President Rivlin met with Vatican Prime Minister Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The meeting between President Rivlin and Pope Francis took place in the Pope's private library and lasted for around an hour, according to the President's Office.
The meeting began with an exchange of gifts during which the President presented the Pope with a stone tablet bearing the Aramaic inscription "House of David", a copy of the stele found at the entrance of the ancient city of Dan in the north of the Hula Valley, dating back to around the ninth century BCE.
Echoing comments he made upon his departure in Israel, Rivlin said the gift was meant "as a symbol of hope and living together, for all faiths."
Pope Francis warmly thanked the President for what he noted was a moving and symbolic gift.
The inscription contained the earliest known reference outside of Scripture to “Beit David”, the “House of David”, and refers to events mentioned in Chronicles II (Chapter 22), in Kings II (Chapters 8-9). The original inscription is now located at the Israel Museum. This replica, with the Aramaic words "House of David" highlighted in gold – was made in honor of Pope Francis, to mark the visit of President Rivlin to the Vatican.
Rivlin's office stated that the unique gift "was chosen as an expression of the deep roots shared by Judaism and Christianity, and as King David is regarded by both Judaism and Christianity as the founder of the House of David, revered in tradition as being from which would come the redemption of humanity, and from whom the Messiah would be descended."
In return, Pope Francis presented the President with a bronze coin bearing an image of intertwined olive branches, symbolizing the shared responsibility of all states and nations, to work for the sake of peace.
The gift included a personal dedication to the President which read, "To seek that which unites, and to overcome that which divides."
Later Thursday Rivlin will be moving on to Italy, where he is scheduled to meet his Italian counterpart, before going on to address a special meeting with members of the Jewish community in the Great Synagogue in Rome’s old Jewish quarter, with the attendance of over 700 members of the community and guests.
Rivlin's meeting with Pope Francis comes at a time of increased tension between Jerusalem and the Vatican.
Relations were strained earlier this year when the Vatican recognized the Palestinian Authority as an independent state of "Palestine".
More recently, the Vatican has found itself pulled into the Palestinian Authority's ongoing diplomatic offensive against Israel at the United Nations, as the PA lobbies for both "observer states" to have their flags flown above the UN's New York headquarters.