Israel's Peres hails Pope Francis, invites him to Holy Land

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday welcomed the election of Pope Francis, saying he represented "holy modesty" and inviting him to visit the Holy Land.

"The newly-elected pope represents devotion, the love of God, the love of peace, a holy modesty and a new continent which is now awakening," Peres said a day after the election of Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the first-ever pontiff from Latin America.

"We need, more than ever, a spiritual leadership and not just a political one," Peres said during talks with Polish Catholic clergy at his Jerusalem residence in remarks relayed by his office.

"Where political leaders may divide, spiritual leaders may unite -- unite around a vision, unite around values, unite around a faith that we can make the world a better place to live. May the Lord bless the new pope."

Peres also invited Francis "to pay a visit to the Holy Land at the earliest possibility."

"He'll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land, as a man of inspiration that can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area," said Peres.

"All people here, without exception, without difference of religion or nationality will welcome the newly-elected pope."

The president said relations between the Vatican and Jewish people were "now at their best in the last 2,000 years, and I hope they will grow in content and depth."

A statement from Israel's Chief Rabbinate noted the "rich and productive discourse" of the past 12 years with the Vatican, which "led to significant achievements."

"The dialogue between the Vatican and Chief Rabbinate of Israel was sanctified and encouraged by the last two popes," the statement read.

"The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is certain that Pope Francis -- whose good relations with Jews are well known -- will continue in that spirit, and strengthen and nurture the bond with the State of Israel and Jewish people."