Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Italy – September 5, 2012
Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs,

Your Excellencies,

Esteemed members of the Italian Delegation,

Dear friends,

I feel very honored by the visit of Your Excellency to present me, in the name of the Honorable Giorgio Napolitano, President of Italy, the Insignia of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Italy. I express my gratitude to the beloved Italian nation, which recently celebrated 150  years anniversary of unity.

I would also like to highlight that while this Honour is conferred to me, I consider it a recognition for the entire Church in the Holy Land.

The Honor of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Italy, will help me in my mission of service for peace and the promotion of Human Rights. I am pleased to emphasize, for my part, the excellent collaboration between the Church of the Holy Land and Italy, both with the Church leaders and representatives of the  State. As you know, here in the Holy Land, there are more than 100 religious congregations, working in the field of education, social work and health services.  Among them, there is a substantial  presence of Italian religious men and women.  Each one  of them offers, through personal contribution and works of charity, the most beautiful image of Italy, personified by people who are sincere, honest, competent, helpful, and supportive, who despite some risks and personal danger, meet people who are in need in times of difficulties.

Many dioceses, associations, foundations, movements, and non-ecclesial groups in some cases, actively maintain constant and constructive relationship with the  Paletinian community, with the Latin Patriarchate and the Custody of the Holy Land, to accomplish various projects for the benefit and well-being of the people of this Land. To everyone and all of these wonderful collaborators, I cordially address my most sincere and paternal gratitude.

I graciously thank the Italian Bishops, and the CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference) for their manifold and valuable support for many initiatives, particularly in social and educational fields.

We are witnessing with great admiration and deep satisfaction, the expansion of many initiatives, especially in the cultural and educational fields, as is happening for example with the American University of Madaba in Jordan (AUM). In this regard, I am pleased to see that in the exchange of correspondence between us, the University Cooperation in the Middle East ,will be included in this year’s program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I am also very grateful to the Italian Government for the support in the realization of the housing project for Christian families. So I take this opportunity to thank the Director General of the Italian Development Cooperation, Elisabetta Belloni,  for her good work in this sector. I am pleased to greet the new Italian Consul General in Jerusalem, His Excellency, Giampaolo Cantini. I am grateful for his constant presence and for his untiring diplomatic and consular efforts, to promote peace and interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land.

Honorable Minister, You already know the Holy Land.

We remember that you were the Italian Ambassador to Israel between 2002-2004 ,and at the same time, the Representative of the European Presidency in office.  You worked to strengthen ties between this land and the neighboring countries of Europe, even during the great difficulties of the Second Intifada.[1] I believe that this  experience allowed you in a particular way, to gain a direct and more in-depth understanding of Middle -East affairs.

A few days ago, in your speech at the meeting in Rimini, you expressed significant words for our time.  You said, that the issue of religion has far too long been marginalized in Europe, and you quoted the words of Pope Benedict (the)XVI, that “to restrict religious freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person.”[2] Taking up the theme of your greeting today, you expressed your clear intention and that of your Government’s commitment, to promote religious freedom, as one of the fundamental human rights, which are, unfortunately, increasingly under threat.

Thank you for sharing in our concerns, about the future of Palestinian Christians.  It is essential to continue to work together to promote peace in this Holy Land, so afflicted and so devastated.  A Peace, however, must be built upon justice, freedom of movement, access to the holy places for the faithful of all religions, with respect and safety for all.

With His Holiness Pope Benedict ,we continue to pray for the two-state solution, that Jerusalem be a city for three religions and two peoples, and that the Holy Land be free of checkpoints and walls, physical and psychological barriers.  In this mission, we are called to unite our efforts and our prayers, for the good of the peoples of this Land.

I request you to convey my gratitude to the President of the Italian Republic, the Honorable Giorgio Napolitano, and our best wishes ,for prosperity and peace,

our beloved Italy.

To the President of the Senate, Renato Schifani, to the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, to the Prime Minister Mario Monti, I send my greetings and best wishes for courage and strength during this difficult economic situation.

I pray that our Lord protect you and always assist you in your delicate, high-level work, as Head of Italian diplomacy. I invoke our Lord’s blessing upon you, and every one of your collaborators, and all here present.

+ Fouad TWAL

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem