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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