patriarch theophilos aj.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Church leaders in Israel and other parts of the Holy Land are concerned about
racist attitudes demonstrated in recent weeks in anti-Arab and anti-gentile
proclamations on the part of Jewish extremists.
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On Wednesday, around 250
Christian leaders representing the Catholic, Eastern and Protestant churches
attended the annual reception at Beit Hanassi for heads of Christian churches,
communities and institutions. Dismay could be heard in snatches of conversation
overheard among Christians of varying denominations, with some attributing the
apparent surge in xenophobia to an increase in missionary activity in Israel –
which, though illegal, often gets past watchdog barriers.
Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, speaking on behalf of all church leaders,
said in his address: “We are cautious about the rising negative sentiments
fueled by extremists and appeal for the fact that we consider all humans as
equal to one another – a perception sustained in the monotheistic faiths and
upheld by the many decent citizens who also feel threatened by the moral decline
Speaking ahead of Theophilos at the gathering – which
included rabbis and other religiously observant Jews, primarily from the
Religious Services Ministry and the Christian Department of the Interior
Ministry – President Shimon Peres declared from the outset of his address that
Israel wanted all people of every faith to feel free in this country.
know you are each facing problems,” he said, and offered whatever help was
needed in overcoming these difficulties.
“All of us have a commitment to
pray to the Lord, who represents peace, understanding and respect for every
human being,” said Peres.
“All of us, of all religions, have a duty –
just like politicians – to come together to make peace. None of us, Jews, Arabs
or Christians, have an alternative.”
He entreated his guests not to allow
hatred to triumph.
Although he refrained from making remarks about
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Peres noted that the world was seeing a
shift from wars between armies to dangers or potential threats such as
terrorism, missiles and nuclear weapons. “We have to unite against this
phenomenon,” he said.
Peres also spoke of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and his unwavering belief that peace was feasible.
“We can and
should bring an end to the conflict,” he said.
“We believe in a two-state
solution with an Arab state called Palestine and a Jewish state called Israel –
and you have a role to play,” he told the Christian leaders. “We shouldn’t let
pessimism or cynicism bring us back to a state of unnecessary
Theophilos said that events like Wednesday’s gathering were of
great significance, “both for celebrating the common bonds of our humanity and
for reminding ourselves of those fundamental moral values that are essential to
our common life.
Humanity today is confronted and confused on every side
with dark forces of disrespect and even humiliation, and unfortunately much of
this is done in the pretense of religious allegiance and in the name of Almighty
Underscoring that the presence of people from so many different
religious streams was “a clear expression and manifestation of interreligious
and intercultural understanding,” Theophilos said that any form of polarization
– political, social or ideological – posed a serious challenge to the efforts
and sincere intentions of those who were on the side of peace, respect and
In the past there has been friction between the churches
and the Israeli authorities over access for pilgrims.
expressed appreciation to the authorities for facilitating greater access to
Christian holy sites for pilgrims and worshipers from around the world. However,
the churches are still at odds with the authorities over issues such as tax
exemption for and ownership of church properties.
The Christian community
accounts for approximately 2 percent of Israel’s population.
other spiritual leaders present at Beit Hanassi were Apostolic Nuncio Antonio
Franco, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Tual, deputy head of the Armenian
Church Archbishop Nourhan Manougiam, Custodian of the Holy Land Pier Battista
Pizzaballa, and Elias Shakur, metropolitan of Acre, Haifa and Nazareth.