Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs visits Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – On an official 3-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, that is currently taking place from Wednesday – Friday June 1-3, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland met with Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem on Thursday, June 2, 2016.
The visit to the region focused on the bilateral relations of Israeli and Palestinian leaders with Finland, the peace process and regional situation in the Middle East.
On Thursday, Mr. Soini met with his Palestinian counterpart Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Riyad al-Malki in Ramallah. In a joint statement that pertained to the stagnant peace process, the two ministers hoped that the French initiative, taking place on June 3 in Paris and which is supported by Finland, would “reconfirm the two-state solution” in hopes to put an end to the occupation and pave the way for establishing a Palestinian state.
During his meeting with Bishop Shomali at the Latin Patriarchate, the Foreign Minister of Finland inquired about the situation of Christians and their day-to-day lives in the Holy Land. Although Arab Christians make up about 2-3% of the population, “they enjoy relative freedom of religion and expression,” stated Bishop Shomali. On the other hand, the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem pointed out to the growing numbers of Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities living in Israel in recent years.
Mr. Soini stressed that the Israelis and the Palestinians must listen to each other in order to gravitate towards peace. “A real dialogue can’t be possible when we are listening to two monologues,” stated Mr. Soini. “If we really want peace, we need to improve on that because we owe it to the future generations.”
Referring to the visit of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls On May 23, 2016, where he discussed with the Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal the French initiative, Bishop Shomali hoped that “the French initiative will be fruitful. Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who was sitting just in your seat two weeks ago, came to speak about this initiative and I hope that Israel will cooperate to create a two-state solution for it’s the unique possible solution”. The Patriarchal Vicar asked the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs to convey a message to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who he met Thursday evening. In his message he said that “Israel can’t guarantee its security without the realization of a two-state solution”.
Mr. Timo also touched upon the significance and crucial role that education plays in the advancement of a country. “In our education system in Finland, we focus on the education and advancement of girls and women. A nation that doesn’t put effort on that point loses half of the potential of the country”.
He also commended the good quality of the Christian school systems in the Holy Land. Bishop Shomali reflected, “Christian schools are among the best, either in Israel, Palestine or Jordan, where Christian and Muslim students enjoy quality education”. He added that these schools now dedicate an hour each week to discuss common shared values between both religions on topics like fasting, charity and justice. He added that in Bethlehem University, a Catholic educational institution founded by the Lasallian Brothers; a religious studies course is offered to students of both religious backgrounds where they learn about Christianity and Islam during a whole semester.
Photos : © LPJ / Thomas Charrière