The church was reopened after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened in the efforts to impose the tax policy, and the city backed off on the proposals. When the "solution was found," the patriarch said, "the light of the Resurrection shone bright."
The Patriarch stated his gratitude to Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for their efforts to protect the Holy Sites, as well as "the continued and faithful custodianship over the holy sites" of King Abdullah II of Jordan, and legislators in the U.S. and the UK for their support.
He drew attention to the July 11 prayer vigil attended by other patriarchs and heads of churches at Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate, in the wake of the Israeli supreme court ruling against the Greek Orthodox Church in a controversial land deal that dates back to 2005.
The deal involved the sale by the Church, later disputed, of hotels just inside the Christian Quarter of the city to Israeli settlers, a transfer of property that the patriarch said could affect the "integrity" of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, and possibly impede access of pilgrims to the holy sites.
A joint statement of the patriarchs and heads of local churches in Jerusalem called the deal "underhanded" and said it threatened the Status Quo agreement of the city.
Patriarch Theophilos said he has asked local officials to join in support of Netanyahu and his work "to keep the pilgrim route open to all, and to maintain the historic, multiethnic, multicultural and mutireligious fabric of our great city Jerusalem."
Preservation of holy sites in the Holy Land as well as Syria, Iraq and Egypt was discussed at last week's event.
Fr. Alexi Chehadeh of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, told of how holy sites "all over Syria" have been destroyed during the country's ongoing civil war. Hundreds of churches and monasteries have been fully or partially destroyed, with billions of dollars needed to rehabilitate or reconstruct them.
The symbolic importance of the reconstruction of holy sites cannot be ignored, he and other Christian leaders insisted.
Many holy sites of the Patriarchate are churches dating back to the second or third century, he said. To rebuild them is "caring for the roots of Christianity," Fr. Chehadeh said, but it would also be "a sign of a peaceful environment" for Christians to return to Syria. Around half of Syria's Christian communities left Syria during the civil war.
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, gave orders to start the rebuilding process in Iraq's Nineveh region by focusing on the homes of the Christian genocide survivors, Fr. Salar Kajo, a priest in Teleskov, Iraq, said.
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Yet "the people insisted to start with the holy places, the churches and the monasteries," Fr. Salar said. "This is the only sign of hope that we have, and we will return because of these places."
In Egypt, after the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood: "came after the churches," Nermien Riad, founder of the group Coptic Orphans, said.
Why did they target the churches? "We recognize that there's a gradual shrinking of public space for Christians in Egypt," Riad said, as extremists want to remove public icons and statues; the exclusion of Christians from public spaces has reportedly even reached sports, as Christians have reported discrimination in joining soccer clubs and in making the national soccer team.
Thus, "churches have become the nucleus of the Christian community," she said, and "serve as a vital support center" for Christians and a "place of refuge" for them "from the insidious messaging" of them as "second-class citizens."
"Most importantly," she said, "it is the last remaining vestige that we exist."
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.