The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday that Zionist groups are trying to expel Christians from the Holy Land.
Theophilos and Abbas held a meeting in the President’s Ramallah office during which the Greek Orthodox patriarch described the current events in the Holy City and the ongoing targeting of Palestinian people — especially Christians.
The Patriarch expressed gratitude to President Abbas for his work supporting the preservation of Islamic and Christian holy sites and told Abbas about the Greek Orthodox Church’s current project of restoring the Mar Elias Monastery and Mar Mitri School in the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as the “Our Jerusalem” project, which seeks to support 400 apartments and a shopping center in Beit Hanina.
“We in Jerusalem, Mr. President, derive our resolve from you, and from your directives. We continue the process of construction and steadfastness and work towards achieving a just and comprehensive peace that guarantees the rights of the oppressed and preserves the true identity of the city of Jerusalem,” said the Patriarch.
Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem accuses Zionists of threatening Christians’ presence in the Holy City
Writing in the London Times, Theophilos III said that “Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation.”
Jerusalem is home to three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and has long been an illuminating example of a mosaic community. It is the spiritual capital of the world, comprising a family of faiths, all of which enjoy a long and unique rich heritage.
Theophilos says that this ancient tradition in Jerusalem is now under threat by Zionist groups who are trying to buy property at Jaffa Gate, the main entrance to the Christian quarter of Old City Jerusalem.
Radical groups behavior “devastating for Orthodox and all Christians”
“Quite disingenuously they claim that their physical presence in there will not affect the integrity of the Christian Quarter. However, we know from their previous actions at St. John’s Hostel, a site even closer to the Holy Sepulchre which was also deceitfully taken over by them some years ago, that this is not true.
“Their behavior will be devastating for all Christians. Local families, who have lived here for generations, will be made to feel unwelcome in their own home and pilgrims who have longed to visit the birthplace of the Christian faith will have their experience diminished.”
Theophilos notes that these radicals are not representative of the state of Israel or the Jewish people, but warns that it is essential for the diversity and distinctive characters of all quarters of the Old City “to be protected for the benefit of Jerusalem and the whole world.”
On Sunday, an Israeli official told Reuters that the reality on the ground for Christians was completely different from that described by the patriarch, citing a Foreign Ministry statement on December 22 that rebutted the earlier church leaders’ claims.