JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli President Shimon Peres hosted Christian leaders at his Jerusalem residence on Monday, wishing them Happy New Year and Merry Christmas.
Among the attendees were Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III; Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal; Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, representing the Armenian Patriarch; Friar Pier Battista, custos of the Holy Land; and Greek-Catholic Melkite Archbishop Elias Shakur.
"It is Israel's responsibility to make sure every believer can pray to his or her Lord without interruption. Israel is deeply committed to protecting the holy sites for every religion. We will not tolerate any offense toward any church, mosque or synagogue," the president told the gathering of religious leaders.
"I know there are some differences between us, but there are also many similarities," Peres said. "By and large, I believe that the religious and spiritual leaders who have assembled here today constitute a camp of peace," he said.
"While we may practice different religions, we are looking at the same sky and praying to the Lord. Use your good voices and strong spirits to overcome the great divisions," the president said.
Peres concluded by asking his guests to help fight discrimination.
"I think the time has come to cross out any expression of discrimination. I wish that every young girl and young boy, Jewish or Arab, will have the opportunity to get the highest education without discrimination," Peres said.
"I wish to protect every mosque, church, and synagogue as independent, as a place of good faith and not a place of extremism. I think we are taking measures to achieve that," he said.
The Greek patriarch responded to the president's remarks.
"Events and gatherings such as this one are of great importance for promoting values that are greatly needed in our present day," Patriarch Theophilos III said.
"Rest assured that both the Christian institutions and leadership in the Holy Land are willing to employ their blessings and resources in furthering peace in the region because we believe that this constitutes one of the fundamental commandments of our faith, which solidifies our existence and determines our mission," he said.
"We are appreciative of the authorities' efforts in facilitating the access for pilgrims and worshippers and commend them to continue and push further this holy important provision," the Greek patriarch concluded.