President Rivlin and Pope Francis
President Rivlin and Pope FrancisHaim Tzach/GPO

Pesident of Israel Reuven Rivlin spoke on the telephone today, Monday 14 December / 28 Kislev, to Pope Francis ahead of the Christian holiday of Christmas in the shadow of coronavirus.

“When we met last time, you prayed for bringing peace to the Middle East and fortunately, your prayers were received. We have a new era of peace agreements in the Middle East,” said the president at the beginning of his remarks, wishing the Pope and Christians around the world and in Israel Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The Pope thanked the president and offered his congratulations for a Hanukkah Sameach in Hebrew.

“It is important that all people in the world get the coronavirus vaccine, not just those from wealthy countries. That is our moral duty. The virus has shown the world that we are all equal in the eyes of God,” said the president, adding his congratulations on the appointment of Mgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

“Hanukkah and Christmas are both festivals where families and communities meet. Under the coronavirus restrictions, celebrating is very hard and difficult for us all,” said the president. “Last month, I met with the heads of the Christian denominations and we are working closely together to find solutions that take into account religious and health requirements.”

At the end of his remarks, the president expressed his thanks for the Pope’s deep friendship, and invited him to inaugurate the Land of the Monasteries project on which he has been working for many years, and about which he has spoken with the Pope on his two visits to the Vatican. The Pope thanked the president for his efforts to build trust between peoples and told the president that he is always in his prayers as a man of peace.

The Land of the Monasteries is a wide-ranging project to promote tourism in the area of the monasteries and churches along the Jordan River at the site where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist baptized Jesus and his disciples. In recent years, the president has promoted the project to allow greater numbers of tourists to come to the area and to develop it as a global site of pilgrimage. From the baptismal site and southwards, there is an area with several buildings – churches, chapels and monasteries, giving it its name. The area, of great significance to Christianity, has been developed in recent years ahead of its opening to visitors. This has included removing mines that were laid in the 1970s which prevented entrance to the churches, and also working with Jordanian partners on the other bank of the river.