Retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem, Maronite Catholic Bishop Moussa El-Hage of Haifa and the Holy Land and Father Bishara Suleiman gather during a prayer service at the Benedictine C hurch of the Multiplication in Tabgha, Israel June 21. Arsonists attacked the church June 18, lighting several fires that caused significant damage to the roof and two rooms, but the church, with its 5th-century mosaic floor, survived. CNS photo by Mary Knight

Christians call for justice in demonstration at Galilee church hit by arson

By  Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service
  • June 23, 2015

JERUSALEM - Druze, Muslims and Jews joined thousands of Christians in a demonstration in Galilee three days after an arson attack seriously damaged the Benedictine Church of the Multiplication.

The demonstrators carried large wooden crosses and Vatican flags and called for justice June 21. At one point a group of young demonstrators blocked the access road to the church.

"We don't seek revenge, but justice," retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said at a Mass celebrated at the church in Tabgha before the demonstration. Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem concelebrated the Mass.

The June 18 blaze injured an elderly monk and a volunteer and destroyed the church's roof while damaging a storage room, church offices and a prayer room. Israel has said it would help with repairs.

Although police initially detained 16 youths who had been camping in the area the night of the arson, they were later released. Authorities are continuing their investigation.

The Ha'aretz newspaper reported June 22 that ongoing attacks on churches have become a concern for police, who began intelligence work to identify activists with violent intentions in May 2014, before Pope Francis' visit to Israel.

However, perpetrators of the attacks continue to elude investigators because they exist along the seam of extremist groups and religious theological groups, the report said. It noted that at the eye of the storm in Jerusalem are tensions at the Cenacle, which Christian tradition holds is the sight of Jesus' last supper, while Jewish tradition believes that the chamber under it is the Tomb of David.
The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land noted in a June 18 statement that the Tabgha attack is the third the Benedictine community in the Holy Land has suffered. One was on the Benedictine Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion near the Cenacle, where a fire was set May 26, 2014, just minutes after the departure of Pope Francis. The assembly noted that Benedictine monks on Mount Zion are incessantly the targets of "acts of contempt and violence."

"Jews, Christians and Muslims together must fight against such manifestations of violence and extremism," the statement said. "The education of young people in religious schools must be emphasized in favour of tolerance and co-existence. In recent months, other attacks were perpetrated against Christian sites or mosques and investigations were not followed up. Given the seriousness of these incidents, we demand immediate investigation, and the perpetrators of this act of vandalism be brought to justice."

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