The following is a letter sent on Friday by a number of Christian Palestinian organizations to Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I on the occasion of his visit to occupied East Jerusalem.
The Patriarch will meet Catholic Pope Francis on Monday, marking 50 years since the historic encounter and reconciliation between the leaders of two of the world's largest religious denominations, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople.
Your Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,
The Palestinian Christian community in occupied Jerusalem, represented by its community-based organizations and individuals welcome you in Your historic visit to our beloved city Jerusalem, where we are receiving you with His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, to pray together in the Holy Sepulcher today.
Jerusalem saw the birth of the Church. We, our fathers and forefathers, continue this long Christian presence throughout centuries until today in this holy city. This Holy City witnessed Your meeting fifty years ago. At that time, we were free and we were blessed to take part in the ecumenical historical visit. Today, we are the little children under occupation, who are barred from getting near you in our city!
With gratitude to You, a Spiritual Leader and with God's blessings, we are full of hope that Your ecumenical meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis I will inspire the long awaited unity of the One Church, again in Jerusalem. Your pilgrimage is our sign of hope. Hope for the unity of Christians all over the world, but also our Christian hope for freedom from occupation, and for justice for Palestine and Palestinians. We know Your stand with the poor and the victims will prevail in the light of truth.
Jerusalem Christians were 24,000 before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Today, we are less than 9,000! This is due to displacement, house confiscation and demolitions, revocation and denial of residency rights and restrictions of movement under Israeli occupation. We have become an isolated community, economically and socially as a result of Israeli laws against family re-unification, and torn apart by the separation wall. This is the truth of Jerusalem Christians today.
We long to live normal lives in our city with full human rights and total freedom. Not with barriers and bars. We long for a living church, not empty stones. We aspire to self-determination, liberated from an oppressive occupation that imposes discriminatory regulations and laws where Jerusalem becomes exclusive for one people and one religion.
At a time when our mere existence in our city is threatened, we expect a different approach from our religious leadership to emphasize the Christian presence and existence in the Holy Land. We expect Your holiness to make gestures to your constituency that you care for, your constituency that remained faithful to Lord Jesus in his city Jerusalem as the first Christian congregation, and who welcomes you today in love and aspiration.
Unfortunately, Your holiness's program in Jerusalem does not provide any consideration towards the Palestinian Christians' aspirations nor their national leadership to send out a moral voice against Israeli policy of annexation and ethnic cleansing of all non-Jews in Jerusalem. As per International Law, East Jerusalem including all of the Old City is Palestinian.
Thus, the whole Palestinian Christian community in Jerusalem is united in dismay. This issue is both symbolic and legal as red lines as per International Law should not be crossed.
We will keep witnessing for our Lord Jesus and our Christian faith in this land as Palestinians. After the darkness of the Tomb, we will live as the church of the Resurrection.
With these sincere words from Your little ones, we, Jerusalem Christians pray for your successful ecumenical pilgrimage and meetings, believing in the power of truth and prayerful action in facing Empire and earthly powers' oppression, as you have taught us. You are our Father and our guide. We are sure that you will listen to our cry, know our pain and work towards preserving the dignity of all human beings.
With respect and sincerity,
On behalf of the Palestinian Christians of Jerusalem:
Jerusalem Christian Organizations: Arab Catholic Scouts Group
Arab Orthodox Scouts Group
Arab Orthodox Society -- Jerusalem
Caritas -- Jerusalem
Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees -- Middle East Council of Churches
Greek Catholic Lady of Annunciation Association
International Christian Committee, Laity Committee in the Holy Land
National Christian Association
Pontifical Mission Palestine
SABEEL -- Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Seeds of Better Life
Union of Arab Orthodox Club -- Jerusalem
Young Men's Christian Association -- YMCA
Young Women's Christian Association -- YWCA