President Reuven Rivlin hosted the annual reception marking the civil New Year for leaders of Israel’s Christian communities on Monday morning.
The event was attended by church leaders, as well as leaders of the country’s Christian communities and Israeli government officials. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, spoke at the event alongside the president.
Rivlin opened the event by noting that 2015 marks 50 years since the Nostra Aetate declaration, which among other things codified a new attitude toward anti-Semitism for the Catholic Church. The declaration, promulgated in October 1965, was welcomed by Jewish leaders as a turning point following centuries of fraught and often hostile Catholic-Jewish relations.
Rivlin said he had felt honored to meet Pope Francis in a state visit to the Vatican in September, and “very much [appreciated] what he said against anti-Semitism, and against converting Jews. His message of understanding and acceptance reflects both Christian and Jewish ideas – ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Pope Francis said, ‘A true Christian cannot be an anti-Semite.'”
Rivlin drew a Jewish parallel, saying that “a faithful Jew cannot be anti-Christian or anti-Muslim. The Ten Commandments – holy to Jews and Christians – teach respect for God and respect for man. These values do not go against each other, they go with each other. At the same time, the Jewish and democratic values of Israel go hand in hand.
“I am proud that Israel protects the freedom of worship and expression for everyone, of every faith. It is not enough for us to only be a safe home for Christians. We want the [Christian] community to prosper, and to play a part in Israeli society.”
The scion of an old Jerusalem family, Rivlin concluded his remarks by wishing Israel’s Christian communities a joyful holiday season and noting the importance of Jerusalem for all three major monotheistic religions.
“Jerusalem is the center of the world,” he said. “Billions of people look to this city in hope and prayer. We all have a duty – at the beginning of the New Year and every day – to stand together and show the world that the conflict in this region is not a war about religion, it is a war against hate. We must work to build bridges between our communities, in the Holy Land and around the world. We must build dialogue, and show that people with different beliefs can live side by side, and even together; in schools and universities, in the workplace, in parliament, and even on the soccer field.”
He added: “This has been my mission as president, and it is a task which lies before all of us. This house, as the house of all the Israeli people, is your house too – my door is always open.”
The Greek Orthodox patriarch responded on behalf of the leaders of various churches, thanking Rivlin “for the strong stand you have continued to take in demonstrating respect for all religions, and your condemnation of violence from whichever side it comes. We understand the importance in the region of healthy diversity of ethnic and religious traditions, with true coexistence, mutual respect, and security for all. We join you in these affirmations and condemnations. Allow us to reiterate our commitment to education based on the principles of moral values that derive from our common heritage. This is paramount to the shaping of our social fabric.”
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