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Bishops, Israeli leaders condemn arson attack on famed monastery
"[This] terrible desecration of an ancient and holy place of prayer is an attack on the very fabric of life in our country. Israel, as a state and a society, is obligated to protect and preserve the holy sites, for all faiths."
By Oliver Maksan
JERUSALEM—In the wake of an arson attack on the Roman Catholic Church of the Multiplication in the Israeli city of Tabgha, Christians in the Holy Land are expressing concern about anti-Christian hostility on the part of Jewish extremists, who are suspected of the crime.
Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem spoke to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in terms of “a real escalation in anti-Christian violence,” adding: “We are allowed to ask: what will come next?"
Still unidentified perpetrators set fire to the monastery that is home to German-speaking Benedictine monks in the early hours of June 18, 2015, causing extensive damage. A monk and a lay employee were taken to hospital, where they were treated for smoke inhalation. Situated at the Sea of Galilee, the monastery, along with the Multiplication Church--which marks the site of the miracle of the loaves and fishes—is one of the most-visited places of Christian pilgrimage in Israel.
Last April, Jewish extremists destroyed and desecrated crosses and altars in the monastery’s outdoor prayer area. Those responsible for the arson attack left behind graffiti in Hebrew on the monastery wall, saying "all idols will be smashed,” which is a quote from a Jewish prayer and a likely clue to the identity of the perpetrators.
The incident was strongly condemned by Israel's political leaders. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said that such “terrible desecration of an ancient and holy place of prayer is an attack on the very fabric of life in our country. Israel, as a state and a society, is obligated to protect and preserve the holy sites, for all faiths."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the arson as "an attack on us all,” stressing that “in Israel freedom of worship is one of our core values and is guaranteed under the law. Those responsible for this despicable crime will face the full force of the law. Hate and intolerance have no place in our society.” Numerous ministers and Members of the Knesset reacted in similar fashion.
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land proclaimed that “given the severity of the crime, we demand a rapid investigation, and that the perpetrators of this act of vandalism are brought to justice."
Auxiliary Bishop Shomali said that “the act is perpetrated by a very small and aggressive group. I cannot put all Israelis in the same basket, since there are the liberal and tolerant Jews, those who are less so and, finally, those who hate non-Jews. My fear is that these radicals are increasing in number and in their degree of intolerance."
Latin Patriarchate photo: Fire damage to the monastery roof