Peace, a challenge and a gift for everyone

European bishops met the Presidents of Israel and the Israeli Authority. The major roles of dialogue and mutual respect

On September 15 Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and on September 16 the Israeli president Reuvén Rivlin: the bishops president of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) closed their assembly-pilgrimage to the Holy Land (September 11-16) with a farewell address to the highest public officials of Israel and Palestine. Peace, justice, dialogue, respect of rights and Christians’ exodus were some of the subjects tackled during two meetings whence resonated the expectations and the suffering of the Christian minority, received by the bishops during their visit to Galilee, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. “We arrived from Europe to learn, to meet the faith of our brethren and strengthen the bonds of our communion with them”, said Cardinal Péter Erdõ, president of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe on September 14, during a dinner with four consuls of European countries (Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium) accredited in Jerusalem, marking another institutional moment of the pilgrimage. “We also want to express our full solidarity to Christians oppressed and persecuted throughout the Middle East and in the rest of the world”, said the CCEE president. “Full religious freedom is a major pillar of human rights”. These same themes were broached also in the meetings with Abu Mazen and Rivlin. In Ramallah. “We sincerely wish the entire people of Palestine to be able to develop their creative forces in active collaboration with the peoples of Europe”, cardinal Erdõ said in his welcoming speech to the president of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in Ramallah. “Over the past days the Presidents of all the Bishops’ Conferences representing 45 European nations met here in the Holy Land”, the cardinal said. “We discussed the joys and the suffering of the Catholic Church in several European countries. We talked about different types of crisis, of faith that gives us hope and shows us the right path to live together in human society”. The CCEE President recalled the meeting with “Christian communities, individuals and families with many children, and with the people of this land” to whom “we expressed our closeness and our desire for justice and peace, which is also theirs”. “We prayed for peace in Palestine and throughout the Middle East. On this peace largely depends also the future of European peoples and culture”, concluded Cardinal Erdõ. For his part, the Palestinian President reiterated his commitment for peace, for the respect of holy sites, firmly distancing himself from religious extremism. In Jerusalem. “This visit is an opportunity to undertake a religious pilgrimage. We came to this land, to the place where Jesus, our teacher and Lord has lived. Here we met the peoples that were bound to him, to whom we are indissolubly bound since the beginning and forever”. With these words cardinal Erdő conveyed the greeting of the European bishops to Reuvén Rivlin, President of Israel. “Over the past days we conveyed our closeness to Christians in the Holy Land”, Erdő said; we admired the dynamism and the modernity of the State of Israel and its people, and we reflected on our experience of interreligious dialogue”. The Cardinal pointed out that the plenary furthered the sharing of pastoral experiences in various Countries, “from Ireland to Russia, from Turkey to Norway”. “While we are worried for those Christians persecuted in various parts of the world, we also seek the best ways to convey our solidarity towards all those in need”, added the CCEE president. “Mutual knowledge and understanding are the most important aspects for peaceful and constructive relations between different cultures and religions. For this reason we consider it important that our Christian countries, and society as a whole, develop a realistic, shared vision of the history of the Jewish people and of Israel. At the same time we are involved in a sincere dialogue with history and on the fundamental questions of human existence. The traditional ideals of the Jewish-Christian cultural heritage continue to bear special significance for the whole of humanity today”. The cardinal thanked President Rivilin for the visit to the Pope past September 3rd, and for the openness shown to reach a solution to “various practical problems”. “We have understood – he added – the concerns of our Christian brethren living in the Holy Land, and we hope you may find the appropriate solutions to these problems, notably in the field of education”. Finally: “We wish hope and prosperity to the people of Israel, to the Holy Land, and to the entire Middle East”. In his opening speech president Reuvén Rivlin recalled the fight on terrorism, as “no Jew, Christian Muslim, or faithful of other religions should be afraid of practising their faith. The Jews know what it means having to hide one’s faith for fear, and this happens still today”, he said referring to the resurgence of anti-Semitism in many Countries. “Israel is a Jewish, democratic State. We are proud that the Christian communities of Israel enjoy full religious freedom. They must not fear for their lives”. Rivlin condemned the acts of vandalism against Christian places of worship, the latest one in Tabgha. “An attack against any place of worship is an attack against all of us. It is the duty of everyone to combat fundamentalism and extremism to promote mutual respect and understanding as stated in the document ‘Nostra Aetate’, which paved the way to true and honest dialogue. We are all made in the image and likeness of God, regardless of race or religion. And this is a message that we must all remember”.

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