Christian leaders condemn latest attack on Jerusalem’s Romanian Church

Christian leaders have condemned the latest attack on a church in Jerusalem.  For the fourth time in a month, Israeli radicals have attacked the Romanian Orthodox Church in the city’s Musrara neighbourhood. On Monday, March 1st, the assailants set fire to the entrance of the church which was quickly extinguished by the Priest in charge.

The Council of Catholic Churches issued a statement of solidarity with the Romanian Church saying “We unite with the Orthodox Churches and all other churches in Jerusalem and strongly condemn such acts of sabotage that not only harm the lives of Christians, but also harm many of those who still believe in dialogue and mutual respect.” These actions contradict the spirit of peaceful coexistence between the plurality of religious communities in the city. The statement added, “All political and religious authorities in the city must unite in condemning these actions, which have been repeated in recent months in Jerusalem.” They demanded the Israeli authorities to seriously investigate these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The attack is an example of the hostility Christians face in the birthplace of their faith. Two weeks earlier a similar incident occurred when radicals destroyed the CCTV cameras of the Romanian Church and attempted to set the door on fire. Speaking at the time, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, described it as an event “that reflects the extent of the Israeli extremists’ hatred for the Christian religion in general, and the Orthodox Church in particular.” In response to the outcry the United Nations Alliance for Civilizations released a statement condemning such acts of intolerance and called for “mutual respect of all religions and faiths and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.”

Commenting on the most recent attack ICoHS CEO, Anita Delhaas, has said “such attacks reveal the level of intolerance many Christians endure, but also the solidarity shared by the different denominations in the faith.” The attack took place just days after a group of senior church leaders in Jerusalem appeared before the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Christianity in the Holy Land. Members of the APPG, which include the Archbishop of Canterbury and politicians from four parties, quizzed the church leaders about the repeated attacks and the failure of local authorities to take meaningful action against the radical groups behind them.

Attack on Gethsemane Church “seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land”

The most senior Christian leader in Jerusalem has described Friday’s arson attack on the Church of Gethsemane as “a crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land.”

His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, condemned the attack carried out by a 49 year old Israeli radical. The man was restrained on site by the Church guard and Muslim and Christian bystanders, before being arrested by Israeli police.

On Friday 4 December the man entered the church at the Garden of Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, and poured a flammable liquid which he set fire to. A Byzantine floor mosaic and wooden pews were damaged in the fire, which was extinguished before causing widespread destruction or injury.

The Custody of the Holy Land is the body responsible for the protection of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Fr Ibrahim Faltas from the Custody called the attack “a crime, a crime that shouldn’t happen in a church in the Holy Land.”

Patriarch Theophilos, who has repeatedly called for greater protection for Christian sites in the Holy Land, added “I call on the international community to take its role in protecting Christian shrines, and preserving the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

Only last week, the Patriarch appeared at online events in Westminster and Washington DC to promote this message. On Thursday 2 December he spoke to a US State Department conference, hosted by US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. On Monday 30 November, the Patriarch was a guest of honour at the inaugural meeting of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Christianity in the Holy Land in the UK Parliament.

Commenting on the attack on the Gethsemane Church, the Chair of the new APPG, Steve Double MP, said: “This attack at a site of great significance to Christians worldwide reveals the threat that radical groups pose. Incidents like this demonstrate why we have established a new APPG on Christianity in the Holy Land to help ensure it remains a place where Christians can continue to live, flourish and thrive.”

Anita Delhaas, Chief Executive of the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre, an organisation established to support the churches of the Holy Land, said “Christians in the Holy Land face many challenges to preserve their ancient heritage and present livelihoods. More than ever, Holy Land Christians need friends, supporters and advocates in Europe and America to speak up and take action to prevent incidents like this from happening in the first place.”

Condemnation of the attack has also come from the Jewish community. Rabbi David Mason, a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews, said “We deplore this attack on a Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem. Jewish people around the world stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they face persecution because of their faith. Attacks like this redouble our efforts to improve relations between faith communities and build societies based on peaceful coexistence.”

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