“What will come next?”
The arson attack on the Roman Catholic Church of the Multiplication in Israel has given rise to great concern in the Christian community about growing intolerance
Following an arson attack on the Roman Catholic Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha in Israel suspected to have been carried out by Jewish extremists; concern among Christians in the Holy Land is running high. Speaking to the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Thursday, Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem expressed dismay. Against the background of a series of similar incidents in recent years, Auxiliary Bishop Shomali commented, “There is a real escalation in anti-Christian violence: from a small fire which leaves little damage, to a bigger fire, and finally to an arson attack which is intended to produce major damage and even killing. We are allowed to ask: what will come next?”
“All idols will be smashed”
Unknown perpetrators had set fire to the monastery inhabited by German-speaking Benedictine monks in the early hours of Thursday morning. Extensive damage was caused to the entrance to the church and the monastery itself. Parts of the complex were completely burnt out. A monk and a member of staff were taken to hospital, where they were treated for smoke inhalation, from which they are now recovering. The monastery with the Multiplication Church, which marks the site of the miracle of the loaves and fishes performed by Jesus Christ, is one of the most-visited places of Christian pilgrimage in the Holy Land and is situated right on the Sea of Galilee.
The site had already been targeted by vandals in April, when Jewish extremists destroyed and desecrated crosses and altars in the monastery’s outdoor prayer area. Those responsible for the latest arson attack left behind graffiti in Hebrew. The text “all idols will be smashed” – a quote from a Jewish prayer – was sprayed on a wall of the monastery. On this basis, the police suspect Jewish extremists are responsible and are following this line of investigation.
“Hate and intolerance have no place in our society”
The crime was condemned by Israel’s political leaders. In a statement released on Thursday, the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, commented, “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 Netanjahu described the arson attack as “an attack on us all.” According to Netanjahu, “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 spoke in a press release on Thursday of a crime that was deeply damaging to religious coexistence in the Holy Land. “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 told Aid to the Church in Need that many Jews had immediately condemned the act: “I am still inclined to think 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 and finally those who hate the non Jews. My fear is that these radicals are increasing in number and in the degree of intolerance.”
Aid to the Church in Need helped to fund the construction of the new monastery, which was officially opened in 2012. The new building in this earthquake-prone area had become necessary because the former structure from the 1950s had no foundations and was in danger of collapse. With support from Aid to the Church in Need, an air-conditioned oratory was financed inside the cloister. Since temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees at the Sea of Galilee in summer, and it is often very loud in the monastery church itself owing to the many visitors, the oratory allows the monks to withdraw to a quiet place for prayer.