LatinaPatriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa LatinaPatriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa  (ANSA)

Holy Land Patriarch: Church will not be intimidated by extremists

In the face of increasing attacks targeting Christian communities in the Holy Land, and amid ongoing political tensions, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem says the Church will not allow a few extremists to dictate its agenda and will continue to promote peace and reconciliation.

By Lisa Zengarini

Amid ongoing protests in Israel over PM Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial judicial reform, and tensions between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Christian communities continue to be targeted by religious extremists.

Incident in a Maronite Church in Nazareth

The latest incident occurred on Sunday, 26 March, in Nazareth where a young man reportedly entered a Maronite church during Mass and asked the parochial vicar to recite the Koran. According to Abouna agency, when the priest refused, the man began to pray aloud until a group of people present managed to convince him to leave.

Two Catholic schools targeted in Nazareth

Prior to that, on March 23 five masked men armed with clubs had forcefully entered a Salesian Sisters School in Nazareth asking the nuns to say 'Ramadan Kareem' (Ramadan be generous). The nuns refused and managed to get the men out of the building.

The incident occurred just over a week after a Catholic school run by the Franciscan Sisters in Nazareth was targeted by gunshots fired by two unknown men, which fortunately didn’t cause victims, and a few days after two radical Israeli men attacked the Church of Gethsemane in East Jerusalem.

Attacks against churches and physical and verbal abuses against clergy

Attacks targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties, in addition to physical and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, especially by Israeli extremist settlers, have become almost a daily occurrence in recent times, and have increased significantly since the formation the new far-right coalition government lead by Benjamin Netanyahu, in December 2022.

Christian targets include Catholic and Greek-Orthodox buildings. One of the latest incidents occurred on New Year's Day when two men toppled tombstones and smashed crosses in an Anglican cemetery. Several Armenian and Syriac priests and religious have also reported frequent harassment and verbal violence.

Pizzaballa: Church concerned but not afraid

Commenting on these events, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, says that the Church is concerned, but not intimidated by extremists, noting that not all Muslims are fanatics, nor are Jews.

“We won’t allow a few deranged criminals to dictate our agenda. We have something bigger than the hate of these people”, he told Radio Maria. “Extremisms are all the same, but we are not afraid. We know that the general climate is rather negative and we are heading towards an escalation of violence, but we must not be frightened”, said Archbishop Pizzaballa, reiterating the need to continue seeking interreligious cooperation.

“As a Christian community we must work and cooperate to build communities of solidarity without letting ourselves be frightened by a few extremists.”

His words were echoed by Monsignor Rafic Nahra, the Patriarchal Vicar for Israel: “Christians are a small community in this country, in the face of so many fundamentalist movements of all religions”, he told Radio Maria. “We have a mission here: to bear witness to Jesus’ Gospel of reconciliation with courage”, he said. “We must all do our part to live well together”.

Over the past months, Christian leaders in the Holy Land have repeatedly warned that their communities are under threat of being driven from the region by extremist Israeli radical groups.   After the recent attack against the Church of Gethsemane, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem demanded that “legal measures be taken against all those involved in terrorist crimes against any holy site”, calling for international intervention to protect Christians in Jerusalem and their holy places.

A similar request has been addressed recently to the Israeli authorities by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, Ofm.

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29 March 2023, 15:21