Greek Patriarch Theophilos III on Thursday voiced his belief in the ability of
religious leaders to be an influence for good during a reception hosted by the
president at his residence.
“The mission of religious leaders throughout
the ages has been essential in safeguarding the religious character of
Jerusalem,” he told the annual gathering for spiritual and lay leaders of
Christian churches, communities and institutions.
“As spiritual leaders,
our preaching of reconciliation, symbiosis, justice and peace must always find
expression in practice. We must make courageous decisions now on the ground for
the sake of all, before it is too late.”
The patriarch commended
President Shimon Peres for the stand taken by the president when he spoke out
against “recent sacrilegious acts that were intended to harm the freedom of
worship that is practiced in the Holy Land.”
Peres’s strong condemnation
of all forms of bigotry and prejudice against places of worship – be they
Jewish, Christian or Muslim – “is a bright example for all leaders to follow,”
said the patriarch.
It is the Greek patriarch who invariably speaks on
behalf of all Christian denominations at gatherings of this kind, perhaps
because those who have filled the position have resided in Jerusalem for
“It is the role of religion to inspire political leaders to
carry out their difficult tasks, but the clergy share the burden of leadership
in their own moral and pastoral ministry,” the patriarch continued.
as political leaders must be shaped by the moral principles of their religious
traditions, in the same way religious leaders have a role in forming individuals
and congregations of faithful people in the exercise of responsible
The peoples of the Holy Land in general and the Christian
community in particular are a living testimony to the diversity that makes up
the common life of the country’s population, said Theophilos.
occasion gives us welcome opportunity to listen to each other in our concerns,”
Jerusalem, he said, “is the uncontested, shared spiritual symbol
of the world.
Jerusalem remains a refuge for pilgrims of all faiths who
seek divine encouragement and refreshment of the soul.”
In this respect,
he said, Christians appreciate the efforts of Israeli authorities in
facilitating access for pilgrims and worshippers.
Nonetheless, he noted
there were concerns common to the Christian community as a whole in which there
could be further helpful programs.
These included regular access to holy
sites, entry visas for clergy, honoring of the tax exemption “that is sanctioned
by sacred history” and the historic standing of the ownership of Church
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues from other Christian
denominations, Theophilos declared: “We continue to affirm that the Patriarchate
of Jerusalem along with our sister churches can contribute decisively to
stability, reconciliation and lasting peace in our beloved Holy Land and
throughout the region.”
This was amply illustrated, he said, by the work
being carried out through the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy
Peres spoke in similar vein, sounding more like a rabbi than a
He constantly invoked “the Lord” in his
remarks and at the outset pronounced that adherents of every religion are free
to pray in whatever way they want, to visit all their religious sites and to
have equal rights.
“I am saying this not just as the president but as a
Jew, because we were all born in the image of God.”
Peres spoke of the
power of prayer and of how borders are disappearing in an era of globalization
and scientific development.
New, science-based industries, he said, are
having the same effect as governments in the past. Politics has become
economics, and the economy is based on unknown factors such as science, because
new discoveries are constantly changing the economy. Nothing is tangible, he
said. There are no borders.
“Science cannot be conquered by an army,
arrested by police or ordered by governments,” he said.
This was a
springboard to the president’s favorite subject, which is brain
“In research of the brain,” he enthused, “we will find out what
makes us extreme or moderate, good or bad.”
The head, he said, “is the
most illustrious instrument in the cosmos. We can create an artificial brain,
but we don’t know how our own brain is functioning.”
But even without
knowing how the brain functions, most people can use their brains to tell the
difference between good and evil.
“Religion has the task of helping every
person to better himself – today more than ever,” said Peres.
past, he said, people spoke of the separation between church and state, but
today the church has to separate from violence and terror.
of terror, he said, was an individual choice, but the Church could play a
significant role toward this aim.
Peres also spoke of the need to resume
the peace process.
“We have to make peace with the Palestinians,” he
said. “I believe it’s possible. I don’t accept doubts, because making peace is
to overcome doubt, and not to stop at its doorstep.”
Looking out at the
packed reception hall, Peres said, “We are gathered here not as a dividing
policy but with a united prayer for peace.
There is no need for
There is no need for hatred.
The heart and soul can be wiser
than the brain.”
Together, he said, “we will try to bring hope, stability
and peace to all people.”
At the buffet brunch that preceded the formal
part of the proceedings, there were clusters of clergy chatting in English,
Hebrew, Arabic, German, Italian, French and several other languages, and
greeting each other in Hebrew with Hag Sameach, Shana Tova! (“Happy Holiday,
Happy New Year!”).