Hat tip to Cathcon for the following:
From the Book, Two Studies in Virtue by Christopher Sykes, about the travels and work of his father Mark Sykes:
As soon as he had arrived in Rome, [Zionist, Mark] Sykes sought an interview with a Vatican official who was of the same rank and influence as himself, someone not a cardinal who had the Pope's ear. He found his man in Monsignor Pacelli, Assistant Under-Secretary for Foreign Aflairs. 'I spoke to the Monsignor,' recorded Sykes, 'of the immense difficulties which surrounded the question of Jerusalem, the Arab Nationalist movement, the Moslem Holy Places, Zionism, and the conflicting interests of the Latins and Greeks, beside the aspirations of the various powers. ... Although he did not say as much, the Monsignor, by certain turns of speech, let it be easy to see that the idea of British patronage of the Holy Places was not distasteful to Vatican policy. The French I could see did not strike him as ideal in any way. I also prepared the way for Zionism by explaining what the purpose and ideals of the Zionists were, and suggested that he should see M. Sokolov when the latter came to Rome. Of course one could not expect the Vatican to be enthusiastic about this movement, but he was most interested and expressed a wish to see Sokolov when he should come to Rome.'
Sykes then obtained a brief private audience of the Pope. This was of a formal kind and nothing was said of Zionism. The next day Sykes left for Egypt.
Sokolov arrived in Rome about three weeks later, and on the 10th May, after conferring with Monsignor Pacelli, he was received by Benedict XV. It was as though Herzl's audience was being annulled. 'Have I correctly understood Zionism?' asked the Pope when the opening formalities were over. 'What a reversal of history! Nineteen centuries ago Rome destroyed Jerusalem, and now, desiring to rebuild it, you take the path to Rome!'
In his reply Sokolov recalled the fate of the Empire and compared it to that of the Jewish nation: one had vanished, the other was reclaiming its land.
'Yes, yes,' agreed Benedict with enthusiasm, 'this was providential. God willed it.'
The Pope then asked Sokolov to explain the Zionist project in detail. Sokolov answered as follows: 'Our programme is twofold. It aims first to create in Palestine a spiritual and cultural centre for Jewry, and secondly to establish a national home for oppressed Jews. Our desire is to build up in that country a great centre where Jews will be able to develop their culture freely, to educate their children in the spirit of their ideals, and to devote all their energies to making their National Home a model of Jewish civilisation and morality.'
The Pope was deeply impressed. 'That is a wonderful idea,' he said. Then he wanted to know whether this plan had been contrived with a view to preventing persecutions. Sokolov answered in the rhetorical terms which came naturally to him. He referred to the right of the Jews 'to a place in the sun—in our land.'
' We look forward,' he said, 'to the rebirth of historical Judaism, to the spiritual and material revival of the homeland that personifies our national genius and our Biblical tradition in its purest sense. We claim the right of Freedom which cannot be denied to any people.'
'But is there enough space,' asked the Pope, 'in Palestine, to carry out your plan?'
To this question which was to be asked so often not only then but in the course of the next thirty years, and on which so much depended, Sokolov returned a skilfully evasive reply. 'There is the possibility of reaching our goal,' he said, 'but first we must prepare the ground.' The conversation turned to the small number of Jewish colonists in Palestine at that time, only twelve thousand; and to the different days ahead when British influence would introduce civilised rule in place of Turkish domination. 'Great Britain,' the Pope interjected, 'is the greatest and most experienced colonising power in the world.' Then they discussed Zionist intentions regarding the Holy Places, before the Pope returned to the original question, which he posed afresh: 'Are many Jews likely to settle in Palestine?'
Sokolov again replied with a skilful and grandiloquent evasion. 'The best - and those who have suffered most,' he said, and then led the conversation away from that subject to the great agricultural work of the pioneers, and from there to a discussion of the Jews in Eastern Europe.
The last words of Benedict at this audience were spoken in answer to Sokolov's request for moral support, and were to be long remembered by Zionists. He said: 'Si, si, io credo che noi saremo buoni vicini' - 'Yes, I believe that we shall be good neighbours.'
Shortly after this Sokolov returned to Paris.