Israeli president says plight of Christians in Middle East is a 'stain on humanity'

(Photo: © Peter Kenny / Ecumenical News)Tight security at the Damascus Gate into Jerusalem's old city on Feb 8, 2016.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has described the plight of Christians in the Middle East as "a stain on humanity," during a meeting with church leaders in Jerusalem in honor of Easter.

Rivlin met Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, representing the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III on April 19.

The president noted the recent terrorist attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt as well as the persecution of Syrian Christians by ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups, and said that Israel would continue to protect its Christian population, The Jerusalem Post reported.

"I say to you here, our Christian brothers of Jerusalem, our thoughts are with you at this difficult time," said Rivlin.

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"We have all seen the pictures from Syria; I visited some of the injured being treated in Israeli hospitals. What has happened there to the Christian community – and to the whole country – is a stain on all of humanity."

Rivlin said that the Jewish people "know better than any what it means to pray in fear, and suffer from terrorism," and promised that Israel would "protect your freedom of worship, your security and the security of your holy sites."

FESTIVAL OF THE PASSOVER

He noted that the Jewish festival of Passover overlapped with Easter this year and warned of the ongoing scourge of terrorism, saying that "while we celebrate these new beginnings and festivals of freedom, we are forced to face the return of a very old evil," the Times of Israel reported.

In referring to last week's Palm Sunday terror attacks targeting Egyptian Coptic communities that killed 45, the president expressed his sadness "at the news of the innocent blood spilled; the men, women, and children, whose lives were destroyed in the brutal terror attacks against the Egyptian Christian community."

He also said he had written a condolence letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi following the attack in which he also expressed his appreciation at the strong stance Egypt was taking against terror.

"I want to say to you that Israel will stand firm to protect your freedom of worship, your security, and the security of your holy sites," Rivlin said.

"As I told the Pope when I had the honor to meet him in the Vatican: Israel remains committed to these freedoms as a basic foundation as a Jewish-Democratic state.

"From inside these ancient walls, we can celebrate our faiths together, we can grow our communities together, and, in the footsteps of the past, we can build a shared future together."

Pizzaballa thanked Rivlin, saying how much the Israeli Christian community appreciates his "solidarity and clear words towards Christians," reported the Times of Israel.

He said that Christians were an integral part of the identity of Jerusalem and spoke of the many pilgrims who come to visit the holy sites.

In his speech Archbishop Pizzaballa recalled the importance of the Christian communities that are "an integral part of the identity of the city, and without which Jerusalem could not be the same city.

"Without this small but well-rooted community, the 'House of Prayer' for all peoples (Isaiah 56: 7) which is Jerusalem, would lose its universal character," 

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