Itongadol.- A war is being waged against those who want to spread the message of freedom of worship and coexistence by those who carry the flag of destruction and hatred, President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday told Church and civic leaders of the Christian communities in the Holy Land at the traditional reception hosted for them at the end of each Gregorian year by the President of Israel.
Over the past months, he said, “we have been greatly concerned by the on-going religious persecution and restrictions on freedom of worship for minorities in the Middle East. Because of their faith hundreds of thousands are being exiled, forcibly converted, attacked and brutally murdered,” he said.
Rivlin made it clear that retaliation does not mean that this is a religious war, but a war against extremism.
Alluding to the recent desecration in Israel as well as in other parts of the Middle East of sites holy to Christians, Rivlin said: “In the face of attacks on holy sites we refuse to be silenced, just as we refuse to be silenced by violence and terror.”
Rivlin said that he was particularly encouraged by “the strong and clear voice of Pope Francis” declaring that he welcomes “his clear call that the corruption of spiritual traditions and values is a desecration of God’s name.” Rivlin added that he appreciates the Pope’s tremendous work “in reminding us all that what matters most is our relationship with our fellow man.” He voiced the hope that in 2015 Christians, Muslims, Jews – all children of Abraham together with all those of different faiths see the fulfillment of the vision of the prophet Isaiah that nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation and no longer learn of war.
Rivlin greeted his guests in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, speaking on behalf of the religious and lay leaders and heads of Christian institutions, stressed the need for continuing dialogue on the road to peace and reconciliation.
“In this season in particular in the world caught up in the darkness of violence, poverty, persecution and war,” the communities of the Holy Land are looked at for renewed hope and inspiration, he said.
Hope and inspiration must find expression in practical ways so that the real needs and concerns of the people being served both by elected officials and religious leaders are addressed, said Theophilos.
“Our precise tasks as political and religious leaders may be different, but first and foremost, our care is for our people. In this region we recognize the diversity of our peoples and we understand that the harmonious co-existence of the Abrahamic faiths is essential to the integrity of the Holy Land,” he continued.
Theophilos emphasized how important it was for all churches to condemn all forms of violence, all acts of terror, all attempts to persecute individuals and communities and all crimes committed against shrines, places of worship, cemeteries and other sacred sites.
“The peace that we seek for our region can never be built on such acts,” he said. “In the work of building a society based on peace, justice and reconciliation, we have learnt the power of dialogue. To be engaged in constructive dialogue does not mean that we have to settle every question or reach a full consensus in every matter. The power of dialogue rests in the fruit that it bears,” Theophilos explained.
The chief fruit of genuine dialogue he said, is a spirit of deeper understanding. “Dialogue reduces tension, eradicates prejudice and promotes compassion.”
Theophilos cited as one of the best examples of the fruit of dialogue in recent times, the meeting earlier this year between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Church in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.