Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has hosted an annual reception for leaders of Israel’s Christian communities, reaffirming the ties between Israel and its Christian population.

In attendance were the heads of various churches in Israel, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, senior members of the Christian community, and representatives of the Israeli government.

According to the Times of Israel, Rivlin opened the event by noting that 2015 marks 50 years since the Nostra Aetate declaration, which among other things codified a new attitude toward anti-Semitism for the Catholic Church. The declaration, promulgated in October 1965, was welcomed by Jewish leaders as a turning point following centuries of fraught and often hostile Catholic-Jewish relations.

He also spoke about his meeting with Pope Francis in September, reflecting on words that the Pope had expressed to him. “Pope Francis said, ‘A true Christian cannot be an anti-Semite’. Let me say – a faithful Jew cannot be anti-Christian or anti-Muslim.”

Rivlin added that the shared Bible of Jews and Christians teaches the basic values that allow the two religions to work together and respect each other. “The Ten Commandments – holy to Jews and Christians – teach respect for God and respect for man. These values do not go against each other, they go with each other,” he said.

At a time when Christians are facing increasing persecution in many parts of the Middle East, Rivlin recognised Israel’s support for the Christians community:

“I am proud that Israel protects the freedom of worship and expression for everyone, of every faith. It is not enough for us to only be a safe home for Christians. We want the [Christian] community to prosper, and to play a part in Israeli society.”

“Jerusalem is the center of the world,” he said. “Billions of people look to this city in hope and prayer. We all have a duty – at the beginning of the New Year and every day – to stand together and show the world that the conflict in this region is not a war about religion, it is a war against hate. We must work to build bridges between our communities, in the Holy Land and around the world. We must build dialogue, and show that people with different beliefs can live side by side, and even together; in schools and universities, in the workplace, in parliament, and even on the soccer field.”

He added: “This has been my mission as president, and it is a task which lies before all of us. This house, as the house of all the Israeli people, is your house too – my door is always open.”

The Greek Orthodox patriarch responded on behalf of the leaders of various churches, thanking Rivlin “for the strong stand you have continued to take in demonstrating respect for all religions, and your condemnation of violence from whichever side it comes. We understand the importance in the region of healthy diversity of ethnic and religious traditions, with true coexistence, mutual respect, and security for all. We join you in these affirmations and condemnations. Allow us to reiterate our commitment to education based on the principles of moral values that derive from our common heritage. This is paramount to the shaping of our social fabric.”