Pope Francis's reference to Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as "an angel of peace" was meant as encouragement for him to pursue peace with Israel, the Vatican insisted Monday, after the words whipped up controversy on social media.
The pope often presents heads of states with a large bronze medallion representing an "angel of peace", and did so when he met Abbas on Saturday, when he used the phrase in remarks addressed to the president, 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 on
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."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi was unable to clarify, but said it was clear what the pope's meaning was, even if he could not verify his words, according to AFP.
"Each of us must be an angel of peace for others. I was present at the audience but I did not hear the pope's exact words," he said.
"The sense of encouragement seems clear to me, and this gift is presented to many presidents, not just Abbas," he said.
Francis's original remarks appeared in the Italian-language newspaper La Stampa, which the English-language outlets in question translated as the pontiff calling Abbas outright an "angel of peace."
But doubts were first cast on the accuracy of the translation by the Israellycool blog, which pointed out that the Italian was written in the exhortative (using the word "sia").
Several Italian-language experts confirmed that to Arutz Sheva on Monday, saying that Francis actually told Abbas that he "may" or "could" be an "angel of peace," in an attempt to persuade him to return to peace talks with Israel.