After being received by representatives of the churches managing the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem on 15 July, President Joseph Biden was accompanied on a short tour to the site of the birth of Christ, where he was awaited by Patriarch Theophilos III, the Custos Father Patton, and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Norahan Manugian, all of whom took Biden on a tour and exchanged discussion with him in the presence of a number of Palestinian officials.
Patriarch Theophilos III stressed the need for an active intervention from the United States to protect the Christian heritage and presence in the Holy Land, especially in the city of Jerusalem, which is witnessing unprecedented attacks by Israeli radical groups. Heads of churches in Jerusalem, as well as the World Council of Churches, have expressed grave concerns that those perpetrating the attacks are not held accountable, which in turn creates an environment that repels Christians from their own city of Jerusalem.
His Beatitude also noted attacks on churches, clergy and Christian faithful by members of these groups and their attempts to seize the properties of Jaffa Gate in a case that illustrates the horror and ugliness of the battle waged by these groups against the authentic Christian presence in Jerusalem. He also spoke of restricting freedom of worship against Muslims and Christians, preventing believers from reaching their places of worship freely, giving the example of Israeli police practices this year on the Saturday of Holy Fire in which they prevented worshippers from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem also explained the dangers of Christian migration, especially from Jerusalem, and that maintaining the Christian presence is an important message to humanity, adding that protecting the “Status Quo” is a priority for all churches, as is the case with preserving the Hashemite custodianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in the Holy Land.
Patriarch Theophilos III and other heads of churches were part of the program of official greetings for Biden. His Beatitude, based on the interest Biden showed at this exchange, expects an invitation to the White House soon.
Patriarch Theophilos III, stressed the need to put an end to the practices of Israeli radical groups that aim to erase the mosaic culture of the Holy City and eliminate its religious and cultural diversity, adding that the Christian heritage in Jerusalem is at risk as a result of the practices of these groups.
A Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Joint Declaration released during Biden’s visit reiterates the commitment to advance a reality where Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal rights, security, freedom, and prosperity. “The United States stands ready to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and regional stakeholders toward that goal,” reads the declaration.