President Reuven Rivlin met with Christian leaders from different denominations in Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday in honor of Easter, and condemned the recent terror attacks on churches in Egypt.
He was welcomed by Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III and other Christian leaders.
Rivlin noted that the Jewish festival of Passover overlapped with Easter this year. He warned of the ongoing scourge of terrorism, saying that “while we celebrate these new beginnings and festivals of freedom, we are forced to face the return of a very old evil.”
The president referred to last week’s Palm Sunday terror attacks targeting Egyptian Coptic communities that killed 45. He expressed his sadness “at the news of the innocent blood spilled; the men, women, and children, whose lives were destroyed in the brutal terror attacks against the Egyptian Christian community.”
He also said he had written a condolence letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi following the attack in which he also expressed his appreciation at the strong stance Egypt was taking against terror.
“I say to you here, our Christian brothers of Jerusalem, our thoughts are with you at this difficult time,” Rivlin said. “We have all seen the pictures from Syria. I visited some of the injured being treated in Israeli hospitals. What has happened there to the Christian community — and to the whole country — is a stain on all humanity.”
Rivlin promised that Israel will always protect Christian rights and ensure freedom of religion.
“I want to say to you that Israel will stand firm to protect your freedom of worship, your security, and the security of your holy sites,” he said. “As I told the Pope when I had the honor to meet him in the Vatican: Israel remains committed to these freedoms as a basic foundation as a Jewish-Democratic state.
“From inside these ancient walls, we can celebrate our faiths together, we can grow our communities together, and, in the footsteps of the past, we can build a shared future together.”
Pizzaballa thanked Rivlin, saying how much the Israeli Christian community appreciates his “solidarity and clear words towards Christians.”
He said that Christians were an integral part of the identity of Jerusalem and spoke of the many pilgrims who come to visit the holy sites.
“From Egypt to Mauritius, from Europe to Asia, from the Americas to Russia, Jerusalem was full of people with different colors, dresses, languages, traditions and liturgies, which I am sure is impossible to find elsewhere in the world,” Pizzaballa said.
Theophilos thanked the president for his visit and said that he hoped “Jerusalem can be an example to all, of harmonious coexistence and a synthesis of traditions and civilizations.”