Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met Tuesday morning with Christian leaders, including Patriarch Theophilos III, in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The meeting was arranged to mark the Easter holiday, and was the first held by a sitting Israeli President at the site in 30 years.
Rivlin used the opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to defend and promote equality and religious freedom: “For me, attacks on your holy places is as damaging as those onto our holy places, and it shouldn’t happen” he stated. “The State of Israel is committed to protecting the freedom of each and every one of the different religions – we will not allow abuse because of religion, and if such harm does occur, law enforcement will take care of it immediately.”
Greek Patriarch Theophilos III welcomed the President, saying “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,” he said.
The Patriach acknowledged the President’s active and public support, saying: “With the turbulence in the Middle East, we know that there is no alternative to coexistence, together in harmony. We would like to congratulate you on your firm stand against religious extremism of any kind and your definitive actions against crimes at different holy places in Israel.”
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal who was also present the meeting, added that Christian communities in the Middle East are under grave threat with little international outcry. “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,” said the Latin Patriarch.
Following his address, the Greek Patriarch presented President Rivlin with a beautiful Menorah, and a copy of the ethical classic, “Duties of the Heart”, by the 11th Century Jewish philosopher, Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pakuda.
Rivlin presented the Greek Patriarch with an engraving of an ancient coin from Jerusalem.