Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reaffirmed Jerusalem’s commitment to the safety of Christians in Israel – the only thriving Christian community in the Middle East.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem in the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday in honor of Easter and met with the heads of Christian churches and communities in Israel. This was the first visit there by an Israeli president since that of President Yitzchak Navon over 30 years ago.
Rivlin was received warmly by Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, who presented the Israeli head of state to the assembled Church leaders. “We are grateful for your visit during this season when the Christian community is celebrating Easter,” he stated. “The close relationship between Passover and Easter is an important reminder to us all of the deep bonds that unite the children of Abraham.”
“Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lived here [in Jerusalem] side by side for centuries, always seeking mutual understanding for the mutual well-being in our region,” the religious leader said.
He added that in the turbulent situation of the Middle East, “we know there is no better alternative than to live together in genuine harmony.”
He commended Rivlin for the “strong stance” he has taken against “religious bigotry of any kind.”
Following his address, the Patriarch presented Rivlin with a menorah and a copy of Duties of the Heart, authored by 11th-century Jewish philosopher Bahya Ibn Pakuda.
The president thanked the Christian leader for his kind words, saying that “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.”
“An attack on your holy sites is like an attack on our holy sites,” Rivlin asserted.
“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,” he said, adding his hope that despite the differences and challenges, “we can all establish trust, partnership and mutual respect as people of faith.”
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal expressed his hope that during Rivlin’s term in office, “peace will be implemented between peoples, based on justice, dignity, and security.”
He articulated his concern over the “great threat to the Christian communities in the Middle East” and condemned the “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, the Latin patriarch stated. “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,Rivlin presented Patriarch Theophilos with an engraving of an ancient coin from Jerusalem before proceeding to sign the visitors’ book, in which he quoted from the Book of Psalms: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those who love her prosper.”