Cardinal Péter Erdő (L); Reuven Rivlin (R)
Cardinal Péter Erdő (L); Reuven Rivlin (R) Mark Neyman (GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin hosted at his residence Wednesday morning members of the Council of the Bishops' Conferences of Europe, led by president of the council Cardinal Péter Erdő.

In his address, Rivlin referred to the incidents which occurred over the past few days in Jerusalem, during the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah.

"Yesterday, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of a New Year; which we hope will be a year of tolerance and understanding," he began. "Yet, on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, Alexander Levlovich, 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," Rivlin stated. "What has occurred over the last few days on Temple Mount are in reality the actions of those who seek to provoke and create hatred between people, between believers in God."

"As those responsible for law and order, we must deal with these provocations and do all in our power to prevent those from the Islamic movement creating these provocations," he added. 

Rivlin also welcomed the members of the delegation, and spoke of his meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican earlier this month, during which they spoke about the importance of freedom of worship and freedom of religion.

"The Jewish people know what it means to have to hide your faith in fear for your life," Rivlin explained. "Even today, in too many places Jews do not wear skullcaps [yarmulkes/kippot - ed.] in the street."

"Anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism, together with all forms of hatred, and racism must be condemned by all of us," he continued. "This is something that Pope Francis said in my meeting with him, and I appreciate his words very much."  

Rivlin then referenced the radical Islamization of the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq - and urged Israel to show tolerance for its Christian minority. 

"In the last years the Christian communities of the Middle East have paid a heavy price for their faith," he said. "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," Rivlin stated. "An attack on any place of worship, is an attack on all of us."

"It is not enough for us, for Israel, to only be a safe haven for the Christian community," he urged. "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," he acknowledged. "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," he concluded. "This is my commitment to you."

Mark Neyman (GPO)

In response to Rivlin, president of the Bishop's Council, Cardinal Péter Erdő said, "in these past days we have been able to express our closeness to the Christians of the Holy Land. We have admired the dynamism and the modern vitality of the State of Israel and its people, and we were able to reflect on our experiences of inter-religious dialogue." 

"Mutual knowledge and mutual understanding are what is most important for constructive dialogue between people of different cultures and religions," Erdő continued. "For this we believe it is important that in all our countries, Christians and society in general form a realistic and empathetic view of the history of the Jewish People and Israel."