President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog hosted the heads of the Christian churches Wednesday in the Holy Land for the traditional New Year’s Eve reception at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Joining the reception were Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked; Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem; Archbishop Battista Pietro Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land (Head of the Franciscan Order in Israel); Archbishop Sevan Gharibian, Chief Sacristan, Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem; Archbishop Dr. Amer Yousef Matta, Head for the Greek Catholic Church of Haifa and all Galilee; Archbishop Dr. Hosam Naoum, Head of the Anglican Evangelical Episcopal Church in Israel; Archbishop Yaser Al-Ayyash, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem of the Greek Catholic Patriarch; Fr. Antonios Alorshleme, representative of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; Abba Zebeaman Samuel Melikamu, Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Israel; Archbishop Moussa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarch in Jerusalem; Fr. Simon, representative of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem; Bishop Camil Semaan, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch in Jerusalem; Bishop Sani-Ibrahim Azar, Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Israel; Propst Joachim Lenz, Head of the German Lutheran Church in Israel. Among the lay leaders: Supreme Court Justice George Kara and Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam.
President Herzog opened the reception by saying, “The diverse Christian communities that you lead, with which Israel has been blessed, have been a gift to the people of the State of Israel. Each community is an integral part of the vibrant mosaic that makes up the State of Israel, and you have truly enriched our nation and our land, as have our many Christian friends around the world.”
The President went on to comment that all of the people are children of the same God, the Almighty God. He said that they all dream of a better world by “filling it with peace, kindness, charity and mercy. We can do this together, united by our common values rather than dividing the world with differences.”
“Today, as historic winds of peace blow through our region, all the Children of Abraham—Christians, Muslims and Jews—can come together once again,” added the President. “Indeed, it is time to build a new partnership between Middle Eastern faiths, based as much on our similarities as on our unique, individual humanity.”
President Herzog also said that as President of the State of Israel, he is wholeheartedly committed to preserving absolute freedom of religion and worship for members of all faiths in this Holy Land. “I know Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked joins me in assuring you that we will stand strong against any forms of racism, discrimination or extremism, and we will reject any assault or threat on religious communities, leaders or houses of worship,” he added.
The President also asked the church leaders to relay his warmest wishes to Christian communities around the globe and urged them to emphasize the importance of following public health guidelines in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
President Herzog concluded by wishing the church leaders and their communities a Happy New Year in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, saying: “May we all be blessed with a happy and healthy New Year, and may we work together to expand the circle of peace and tolerance in the Holy Land, in our region, and around the world.”
Minister Shaked also wished everyone a healthy and joyful New Year and said that it should be a year in which they work to build new bonds of friendship and cooperation between all of the religious communities of the region and that all of their prayers for peace will be answered. “While we may have differences in belief,” she said, “We all share a deep love for the Holy Land, a deep connection to its history, and a deep belief in its future as a source of blessing for the entire world.”
Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, on behalf of the Church leaders, thanked the President for his, “steadfast commitment to the integrity of the multicultural, multiethnic, and multi-religious nature of our region and your defense of the rights of all those who call the Holy Land our home.”
“We the heads of the churches in Jerusalem,” he added, “remain grateful for the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land and to preserve the Christian communities as an integral part of the tapestry of the modern community.”