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Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Praises Israeli Religious Freedom

Israel should take pride in the fact that it guarantees full religious freedom for all its citizens, Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, said Tuesday at a meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Christian leaders and President Reuven Rivlin.

“We take this opportunity of this holiday gatherings to express our gratitude for the firmness with which you defend the freedoms that lie at the heart of this democracy, especially the freedom of worship,” Thophilos said on behalf of the Christian leaders.

We are always encouraged by your commitment to the sacredness of life and your condemnation of all forms of terrorism. These fundamental commitments are the basis of any society that understands that we share a common human destiny.  The State of Israel takes pride in the fact that this state was founded on democratic principles in the Middle East, and that it guarantees full freedom of worship. We are confident, Mr. President, that you will continue to resist any restrictions of religious practices.

Thophilos also expressed deep concern over “the unspeakable experiences” of those “who suffer in the countries around us … for the mere fact of their religious allegiance.”

“Looking back on the last year, there is a lot we should be proud of. We have continued to build good relations between the Jewish and Christian communities,” Rivlin observed during the meeting. “We may have different faiths, but we share many common values. We share a deep respect for mankind, created in God’s image. We share a commitment to love our neighbor. We share a hope for peace. And in this city, we all, the children of Abraham live together, side by side.”

“I see my role, and the role of the State of Israel, as guardians of this city. As guardians, our sovereignty over Jerusalem will never compromise the freedom of worship and religion for all believers,” Rivlin asserted.

The president also made reference to last week’s United Nations Security Council resolution criticizing Israel’s control of the Old City of Jerusalem.

United Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and it will remain. There is no international body with the power to revoke this. And as sovereigns of the city, I stand here today to repeat in the clearest way: the State of Israel is deeply committed to ensure the religious rights of all faith communities in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.

Others at the gathering included Catholic Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, and Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

[Photo: The Office of the President of Israel]