Here is the statement of Reuven Rivlin, president of Israel, to the plenary assembly of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), which concluded today after being held for the first time ever in the Holy Land.
The CCEE brings together the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Europe, representing 45 nations on the continent.
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President Reuven Rivlin’s Address
To the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 / 3 Tishrei 5776
His Eminence Cardinal Peter Erdo, His Beatitude, FuadTwal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, bishops, cardinals, distinguished guests, welcome to my home, welcome to Jerusalem, welcome to Israel. Thank you for visiting today, as we say in Hebrew,‘BruchimHaBaim’ bless you all.
Dear guests, you are here in the Holy Land during the holy days. As our Muslim citizens, celebrate Eid El-Adha in another week, for us, it will be Yom Kippur when we fast and ask God to write us in the Book of Life. Yesterday, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of a New Year; which we hope will be a year of tolerance and understanding. Yet, on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, Alexander Levlovitz, a Jerusalemite, a family man, was murdered when terrorists threw rocks at his car, forcing him off the road. This bloody attack shows us once again that terror is terror – whether with rocks, guns or other weapons – and it shows us we must act firmly against all terrorism.
Two weeks ago I met Pope Francis, and told him of my memories, of Yom Kippur, growing up in Jerusalem, before the State of Israel was established. I remember holding my father’s hand as we walked to the Western Wall to hear the blowing of the Shofar at the end of the fast. But even at this holy hour, we could not blow the Shofar and anyone who did was arrested. As a young child, I promised myself to fight with all my ability so that no one – Jew, Muslim, Christian, or other – would ever feel as I did; afraid to show their faith.
The Jewish people knows what it means to have to hide your faith in fear for your life. Even today, in too many places Jews do not wear skullcaps in the street. Anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism, together with all forms of hatred, and racism must be condemned by all of us. This is something that Pope Francis said in my meeting with him, and I appreciate his words very much. In the last years the Christian communities of the Middle East have paid, a heavy price for their faith. Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state, is proud that Christians in Israel enjoy freedom of worship, freedom of religion, and do not fear for their lives. When there has been vandalism at holy sites, we stood together, and continue to stand together, with the Christian community, to condemn these terrible acts. An attack on any place of worship, is an attack on all of us. But it is not enough for us, for Israel, to only be a safe haven for the Christian community. We want the community to flourish, to play a part in the Israeli experience, and to be part, of Israeli society. I know there are issues of concern for the Christian community. I met with the community leaders and also visited the Christian sites in the Jordan valley and at Tabgha. We must continue to work together to find a solution as soon as possible. This is my commitment to you.
Friends, the task before us is clear. We have no war with Islam, no fight with Christianity; we all have to battle together against extremism and fundamentalism. It is the duty of all of us to work for mutual respect, and understanding. In just over a month, we will mark 50 years, of the Nostra Aetate. This was important not just because it made a clear stand against anti-Semitism and opened the way for a real and true dialogue between the Catholic and Jewish communities; but because of its fifth point, which stated that all mankind was created in God’s image, regardless of religion or race. A message that all of us must always remember. As you return to your home countries, I want you to take with you, my blessings from Jerusalem, to your communities. I wish you all, a happy and sweet, New Year.