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ROME – Israel’s top religious leaders joined President Isaac Herzog in calling for more people around the world to be vaccinated, saying that the approved vaccines are safe and effective tools in fighting COVID-19.

In a joint statement published Thursday, Herzog and representatives from all of Israel’s major religions, including the Catholic Church, said, “Together with prayers to the Almighty, we call on everyone to be vaccinated as soon as possible.”

“The licensed vaccines that have been approved by the most important professional regulatory bodies in the world are highly effective and safe, proven by the notable number of over 3 billion vaccinated people worldwide, and have led to a drastic reduction of COVID-19 infections,” they said.

Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Druze and Baháʼí leaders – including Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa and Greek Catholic Archbishop Yousef Matta of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee – were invited to the president’s residence in Jerusalem to discuss the status of the coronavirus and to encourage faithful in their various traditions to get vaccinated.

In their statement, the leaders argued that “the sanctity of life is a supreme value for religions and the saving of the life of any human being – all created in the image of God – is the greatest religious obligation of all.”

“It is manifestly clear that the mass vaccination of entire populations is our primary tool for defeating this terrible pandemic,” they said, voicing their belief that their role as religious leaders in the Holy Land is “to stand at the forefront of the battle against the virus and to help the World Health Organization, health ministries, and healthcare systems to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and save countless lives – by any means that the proper authorities may demand.”

These means, they said, in particular include “the vaccination of all eligible populations.”

“The virus affects men and women indiscriminately and independently of their religion, race, or nationality,” they said, and underlined “the important role that religions can play in giving stability, comfort, guidance, and hope to faithful and communities.”

Calling the coronavirus a “plague,” they said it has infected millions of people “and is causing a very serious economic and social crisis with enormous mental and educational damage to the population.”

Religions must commit “to eradicate the plague, and protect and sanctify the gift of life and health,” they said, lamenting that to date, just 30 percent of the global population has been vaccinated.

They urged greater attention to be paid to developing countries, which “have not been able to obtain a meaningful vaccination of their population due to logistical and economic problems.”

As religious leaders, they reaffirmed their commitment in the fight against COVID-19 and announced their openness to “any initiative of medical assistance and professional and religious advice, aimed at fostering the widest interreligious and international cooperation in the fight against the virus.”

In addition to Pizzaballa and Matta, other leaders who participated in the audience with Herzog and who signed the statement include: Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef; Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau; Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III; President of the Shari’a Court of Appeals Sheikh Abed Elhakim Samara; Druze Community Leader Sheikh Mouafaq Tarrif; Head of the Muslim Department in the Interior Ministry Sheikh Ziad Abu Moch; Inspector of Imams in the Interior Ministry Sheikh Jamal Al Obra; and Secretary-General of the Baháʼí Movement in Israel, Dr. David Rutstein.

On Sunday Israel announced a campaign to vaccinate some 1.2 million children aged 5-11 years old, which is set to begin in a matter of days.

Israel, which has strict mask and ‘green pass’ vaccination requirements, has had a total of 1,337,190 cases and 8,130 deaths since the coronavirus first broke out. 16,033,430 people have been vaccinated.

As of Nov. 9, 4,000,333 Israelis had received their third vaccine dose, which is administered six months after the second jab, and which Israel’s Health Ministry has argued is necessary for complete immune protection from COVID-19.

In the past month, according to Johns Hopkins, Israel has faced 20,873 new COVID cases and 144 deaths, which is down from the previous 28-day period.

As of October 9, Israel had over 10,000 new infections a day, however, since more people began receiving their third booster shots, the number of new infections in the past month has dropped, falling beneath 10,000 as of Nov. 10 – a statistic experts and government leaders say is due to an increase in vaccinations and other preventative measures.

The statement from Israel’s religious leaders comes as the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem is encouraging faithful to return on pilgrimage.

In a Nov. 8 statement, the patriarchate of Jerusalem said a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is “a life-transforming experience.”

“There is no virtual replacement for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” the patriarchate said, adding, “The return of pilgrims would be a light of hope to sustain the Christian communities and the Church’s mission. One of the spiritual gifts we will have is the profound sense of gratitude for experiencing these holy places again.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen