“The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem has denounced a new ‘Church Lands’ bill proposing to allow the state to confiscate church land that has been leased to third parties as a ‘shocking assault’ on the history and presence of Christians in the Holy Land.
Describing the bill as ‘catastrophic’ and as a threat to peace in the region, Theophilos III said today (2 November) that the ‘Status Quo’ rule that has guaranteed the rights of Christians to live alongside people of other faiths in Jerusalem and its Old City for centuries is in ‘grave danger’.
The Patriarch addressed journalists following a meeting with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster. Currently on an international tour where he is meeting with senior religious leaders, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch said he has been ‘mandated’ by all church leaders in the Holy Land to ‘raise awareness of the challenges we are facing as a Christian community in Jerusalem.’
The tour comes after 40 members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) signed a proposed bill in July that, the Orthodox Church argues, would restrict the rights of the churches to deal freely and independently with their lands and would threaten their confiscation by the state.
‘This bill is an assault on the freedom and independence of our Churches which have served and supported Christians in the Holy Land for two millennia. Were it to be passed, this bill would be in clear violation of… numerous international treaties,’ Theophilos III said in a statement read in English.
The Patriarch also said that ‘radical settlers’ had intensified their underhanded actions of expropriation of Church property. Referring to the ‘Jaffa Gate’ case where the Israeli District Court in Jerusalem ruled recently against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate over the unauthorised sale of two hotels near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City as an example, he said ‘radical settlers are working to push Christians out of Jerusalem.'”