Just as he said the previous day to Pope Francis, President Shimon Peres on Tuesday reiterated his conviction that cooperation between religious and political leaders can contribute to peace.
Peres hosted Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Batholomew I, who is the primate of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Batholomew came to Israel on Friday specifically to reenact, with Francis, the historic meeting that took place in Jerusalem in 1964 between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, which was an important step toward healing a centuries-old rift between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Peres waited on the red carpet to receive the patriarch and his seven-member delegation, all clad in black robes and wearing black miters.
In his opening remarks Peres said that Bartholomew had come for a holy purpose – to support religious peace between himself and the pope and political peace in the Middle East.
Meetings between religious authorities and the political establishment might help to find a compromise and a solution between the parties of the conflict, he said.
Though Israel’s Christian community is relatively small, Peres commended it as having the best education system, and said that its members are very constructive and contribute to public life.
He also emphasized that the many Christian holy sites in Israel are safe and freely accessible, enabling prayer in all languages and from all prayer books without censorship or interference.
Peres regretted that some Christian communities in the Middle East are the targets of hatred and discrimination. “We are [all] created in the image of God and to be different is not a sin,” he said, adding that differences may even enrich people’s own religious practices.
Enumerating countries of the Middle East that have been beset by terrorism, Peres said that terrorism is tearing the Middle East apart.
Peres said that spiritual authority is as powerful as political authority, and that a coordinated effort between religious and political authorities can bring an end to terror and hatred and bring about peace.
Bartholomew spoke of the theological dialogue that had been created by Paul and Athenagoras and said that it had been continued by the Eastern and Catholic Churches to the present time.
“We try to solve existing differences, but also to contribute to establishing permanent peace around the globe.”
Unity amongst faiths, he continued is very important in bringing about peace.
At the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, there has also been an academic dialogue with Judaism and Islam for more than 30 years, he said, and this has led to mutual understanding and mutual respect.
Bartholomew shared some of the difficulties of living as a Christian minority in an Islamic country. Although different from the majority in Turkey, the adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church will continue to maintain their traditions, and despite the difficulties of living in the Middle East, will continue to do so, “because this is where Christianity has its roots,” he said.