Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted Christian leaders on Thursday at a traditional New Year’s reception.
“Our sovereignty over Jerusalem will never compromise the freedom of worship and religion of all peoples of faith in Jerusalem and in all of Israel,” he told the leaders from the Christian communities at his residence.
“Today, it is a place of pilgrimage for growing numbers of Christians from all over the world,” added Rivlin. “As you know, the State of Israel is working to clear the landmines still in the area and to return the monasteries nearby to their owners.”
The president mentioned his recent meeting with Pope Francis and discussed a “Land of Monasteries” project that will enable “every Christian” to “be able to safely follow the route from Jerusalem to Nazareth via Jericho, and bathe in the waters of the River Jordan.”
“Making this dream into a reality will allow us all—Christians, Muslims and Jews—to express our faith in humanity and in our ability to work together,” said Rivlin. “Even more, this project allows us—Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians—to express our faith that we are not doomed to live together we are destined to live together.”
In attendance were Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, the acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the representative of the Armenian Patriarch, Custos of the Holy Land and the head of the Franciscan Order in Israel, in addition to the head of the Greek Catholic Church in Haifa and the Galilee.
“I am committed to freedom of religion and worship in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. It is no exaggeration to say that there has never been a time when Jerusalem enjoyed more religious freedom than it does under the State of Israel,” said Deri. “We hope for peace in this small country, holier than any other. Peace is not an extravagance, it is a requirement. We need to work hard for it. We pave the way to peace in daily life with small steps.”
Finally, Rivlin addressed concerns over proposed legislation related to the legality of church properties.
“The State of Israel has no intention of harming the property rights of the churches or their ability to realize their assets to support their activities,” he said. “We will never do that. The churches’ legal representatives were invited to take part in the legal process and to make sure that the agreement under discussion will not harm the churches later on. I hope that discussion and dialogue will produce a solution.”
Theophilos III told Rivlin that “we are concerned that attempts to bring this discriminatory bill that threatens the churches’ humanitarian mission will continue. We are grateful for your wise intervention, and I reiterate our willingness for dialogue, but remind you that we stand united in our opposition.”