Greek Patriarch: Religious leaders must be good influence

Christian leader commends Peres for protecting freedom of worship, celebrates Jerusalem during reception at President’s Residence.

President Shimon Peres meets Christian clerics 311 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres meets Christian clerics 311
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
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 centuries.
“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.
“Just 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 citizenship.”
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.
“This occasion gives us welcome opportunity to listen to each other in our concerns,” he said.
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 property.
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 Land.
Peres spoke in similar vein, sounding more like a rabbi than a politician-turned-president.
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 research.
“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.
In the past, he said, people spoke of the separation between church and state, but today the church has to separate from violence and terror.
The minimizing 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 war.
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!”).