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Israeli president cites Pope Francis in address to Christian leaders

Posted By January 2, 2015 | 5:01 pm | International

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service
JERUSALEM (CNS) — In his first public address to Christian religious leaders, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he was particularly encouraged “by the strong and clear voice of Pope Francis that the corruption of the spiritual position is a desecration of God’s name.”
During the traditional presidential holiday reception Dec. 30, Rivlin expressed concern over religious persecution in the region and restrictions on freedom of worship for minorities in the Middle East, where he said many have been forcibly converted, exiled or killed.
The military effort in the region — led by a coalition of forces, including the United States — is a “war against extremism,” he said. They are fighting against “those who carry the flag of destruction and hatred.”
“We will continue to live together and build bridges of peace with God’s help here in the land of our fathers,” Rivlin said.
The president, a former member of parliament of the Likud party who was elected to the largely symbolic office in July, has surprised many by his strong condemnation of numerous acts of vandalism against Christian and Muslim sites and other acts of racism. In October, he became the first Israeli president to participate in an annual memorial ceremony in the Arab village of Kfar Qasim, Israel, commemorating a 1956 massacre that left 47 residents dead.
In his response Dec. 30, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III said the Christian leaders of the Holy Land acknowledge the importance of coexistence and strongly condemned all acts of violence against people and holy sites and attempts to persecute people and religious communities.
“The peace that we seek for our region can never be built on the foundations of such acts,” he said.
In a season where the world has been particularly darkened by violence, persecution and war, people are looking toward the Holy Land, which shines with a divine light for renewed hope and inspiration, he said.
“(In) the work of building a society based on peace, justice and reconciliation, we (Christian churches) have learned the power of dialogue. To be engaged in constructive dialogue does not mean we have to settle every question or reach political consensus on every matter. The power of dialogue is the fruit that is beared,” he said. “The chief fruit of genuine dialogue is the spirit of deeper understanding. Dialogue reduces tensions, eradicates prejudice and promotes compassion. … We understand the harmonious coexistence of the Abrahamic faiths is essential to the integrity of the Holy Land.”