BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel (AFP) - Israeli President Shimon Peres Friday urged Pope Benedict XVI to stress that "God is not in the heart of terrorists," and thanked the pontiff for his touching words on the Holocaust.
"I believe that your great spiritual leadership can influence a new spirit of godliness in man. Can help people to recognise that God is not in the hearts of terrorists," he said at the departure ceremony at the end of the pontiff's trip.
"This is an historic mission which resides in your great ability to inspire others," Peres said in a farewell address as the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics headed home after an eight-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
"Today's political and spiritual leaders face a profound challenge: how to divorce religion from terror. How to prevent terrorists from hijacking the religious conscience by cloaking an act of terrorism in the false guise of a religious mission."
Peres lamented that "vile fanatics are emerging and are attempting to impose an alternative interpretation of the will of God ... Their distorted image of God is that he permits them and even encourages them to murder, to terrorise and to use violence."
The Israeli president thanked the pontiff for his condemnation of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
"Your statements during the journey here, carried a special and substantive weight," Peres said.
"In particular your declaration that the Holocaust, the Shoa, must not be forgotten nor denied. And that anti-Semitism and discrimination, in any form, and in any place, must be fought intensively," he said, adding: "It touched our hearts and minds."