“The State of Israel will always remain committed to freedom of religion, and will always be proud of the strong Christian communities in the Holy Land,” the president said.
By World Israel News Staff
President of Israel Reuven Rivlin held the traditional New Year’s reception for heads of the Christian denominations in Israel, this year online, on Wednesday.
“This is the last time that I will have the privilege of sending my New Year’s blessings to you and your communities, as President of the State of Israel. I wish I could do so in person, in a festive meeting. Unfortunately, that is not possible due to corona, which knows no difference between countries, peoples and religions,” said the president at the beginning of the event.
“Despite the physical distance, I am deeply thankful for the close relationships we have built. Thank you for your cooperation and friendship. The State of Israel will always remain committed to freedom of religion, and will always be proud of the strong Christian communities in the Holy Land,” he added.
The president expressed his hope that he would soon be able to announce the opening ceremony of the Land of the Monasteries, saying “I hope and pray that this will be a year in which the Christian communities in Israel continue to grow and thrive, and in which Christians throughout the Middle East know peace and safety.”
The Land of the Monasteries is a wide-ranging tourism project in the area of the abandoned churches and monasteries on the banks of the River Jordan close to the site where, according to Christianity, John the Baptist baptized Jesus and his apostles.
In recent years, the president has advanced plans to increase tourism to the area and develop the sites to visitors from around the world. South of the baptismal site there are a number of key sites – churches, chapels and monasteries – that give the area its name. The area, which his of major religious significance to Christians, has been developed and restored in recent years ahead of its opening to visitors. As part of the project, mines laid in the 1970s and which prevented access to the churches and the surrounding area, have been cleared.
Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri also delivered remarks. He said, “At a time when the coronavirus is claiming victims around the world, closing down economies and harming religion and education, we see that it does not discriminate on the basis of religion, race or gender. It is precisely now that we must be united in our war against the virus and in our prayers to return to better, saner days.”
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III said, “We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to you, Mr. President, for your steadfast support of the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious character of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
“We have deeply appreciated the personal concern that you have shown us by speaking individually to each of the Heads of the Churches during this pandemic. We wish to extend to you, Mr. President, our greetings and best wishes for this holiday season, in which the Abrahamic faith traditions keep festivals of light and life.”