President Reuven Rivlin visited the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem in the Old City, for a meeting with the heads of Christian Churches in Israel. The President was received warmly by Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, who presented the President to the assembled Church leaders. This is the first visit of an Israeli president to the site since the visit of President Navon over 30 years ago.
Greek Patriarch Theophilos III began by welcoming the President, he said, "We are grateful for your visit during this season when the Christian community is celebrating the festival of Pascha (Easter). The close relationship between Passover (Pesach) and Easter (Pascha) is an important reminder to us all, of the deep bonds that unite the children of Abraham. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lived here side by side for centuries, always seeking mutual understanding, for the mutual well-being in our region. In the particularly turbulent current situation of the Middle East, we know there is no better alternative than to live together in genuine harmony. We wish to acknowledge and commend you Mr. President for the strong stance you have taken against religious bigotry of any kind, and for the actions you have taken against crimes targeting religious shrines, monuments and holy places."
Following his address, the Patriarch presented the President with a beautiful Menorah (Candelabra), and a copy of "Duties of the Heart", by 11th Century Jewish philosopher, Bahya Ibn Pakuda.
The President thanked the Patriarch, and noted that as the Jewish community had just finished celebrating the festival of Passover, "When the People of Israel were slaves in Egypt, the first thing Moses asked for was not to ease the hard work, but for the freedom of worship. The trigger to the Exodus from Egypt was the demand of the Hebrews to 'Let us worship our God'."
The President stressed, "Religious freedom is a value dear to the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state. And I am proud of our obligation, and I reaffirm that obligation to freedom of worship for all denominations and communities. We cannot allow hate crimes against people or buildings of faith. An attack on your holy sites, is like an attack on our holy sites, and Israel's law enforcement must deal with such crimes accordingly. We live in a complex political and religious reality, especially here in Jerusalem - the microcosm of the Middle East. It is our shared duty to have proper and respectful communication between us. For many years our relations have been kept through the Status-Quo. The Status-Quo is not only a formal obligation, it is an expression of understanding, and of the delicate balance of living in a diverse community. I believe that despite the differences and challenges, we can all establish trust, partnership, and mutual respect as people of faith."
Following the President's address, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal spoke. He said, "We pray that during your term in office, peace will be implemented between peoples, based on justice, dignity, and security. There is a great threat to the Christian communities in the Middle East. Yet there is an embarrassed silence about Christians being crucified, beheaded, stoned and shot in country after country. We must lament the slaughter of Christians in the presence of the indifference of world leaders. We hope and pray that God will impart peace on our peoples in the Middle East, and across the world."
At the conclusion of the gathering, the President presented the Greek Patriarch with an engraving of an ancient coin from Jerusalem, before signing the visitors’ book quoting the Book of Psalms, (122:6), "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those who love her prosper."
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