Pope Francis denied Thursday that he had called Palestinian Authority (PA) Head Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” when the two met a fortnight ago.
The pope told Israeli reporter Henrique Cymerman and his longtime friend Rabbi Avraham Skorka, that he only told Abbas – in Italian – that he believes he could still become an angel of peace in the future.
In an email message to the two, the pope added that “whoever does not accept the Jewish people and does not accept the State of Israel, which has a right to exist, is displaying anti-Semitism.”
A few days after the meeting with Abbas, the Vatican said that Pope Francis's reference to Abbas as "an angel of peace" was meant as encouragement for him to pursue peace with Israel.
The pope often presents heads of states with a large bronze medallion representing an "angel of peace," and did so when he met Abbas and used the phrase in remarks addressed to the PA chairman, according to journalists present.
His words – which came just days after the Vatican declared it was preparing to declare the PA a "state of Palestine" – were pounced on in social media amid accusations that AFP and other outlets mistranslated his words.
As the head of Rome's Jewish community questioned why the pontiff would entrust the "angel of death" with bringing peace, some Twitter users pointed the finger at the media, with one wondering whether "it is the media and not the pope who called Abbas an angel of peace."