Gethsemane church targeted in arson attack
CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 12:01 pm MT (CNA).- The Catholic leaders of the Holy Land are demanding an investigation into an attempted arson attack at a basilica located near the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Basilica of the Agony, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem next to the Garden of Gethsemane, is also known as the Church of All Nations. It houses a section of rock where Christ prayed the night before his crucifixion.
Israeli police on Dec. 4 said they had arrested a 49-year-old Jewish man who “poured flammable liquid inside the church.” The fire damaged a Byzantine mosaic, but did not spread to the church’s structure.
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, which is composed of the leaders of the Holy Land’s Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, shared pictures in a Dec. 4 joint statement of several pews blackened by smoke.
“As we thank God that the fire was quickly extinguished, we thank the police for their swift action and arrest of the suspect. We also demand the police to seriously investigate this arson attack, especially since it seems that it is racially motivated,” the ordinaries said.
In recent years Chrsistians say they have been attacked by some groups of Israeli settlers in traditionally Christian regions, and attacks on Christians have also been documented in Jerusalem. Most of the Christians in Israel are Arabs.
Pope Francis has urged the necessity of maintaining the status quo in the Holy Land, such as in his meeting with Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, in October 2017, in which the two discussed the patriarch’s concern for the Christian community amid aggression by Jewish settlers.
The Benedictine Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem has been vandalized on five different occasions in recent years, including with anti-Christian graffiti written in Hebrew. In 2014, an assailant tried to burn the abbey down.
In June 2015 an arson attack damaged the Church of the Multiplication, which is located on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ fed thousands of people through the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes.
Vandals shattered stained-glass windows and destroyed a statue of Mary in St. Stephen Church in the Beit Jamal Salesian monastery, 25 miles west of Jerusalem, in September 2017.
On June 8, 2019, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox seminarians in Jerusalem’s Old City were targeted by three young Jewish extremists who spat on them, saying “Death to the Christians” and “We will wipe you out of this country.”
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has repeatedly called for educational measures in response to vandalism attacks.
The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land’s requests to discuss the attacks with the Israeli authorities, including with the Prime Minister, have been repeatedly denied.