JERUSALEM – The most senior Christian leader in Jerusalem has described Friday’s arson attack on the Church of Gethsemane as “a crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land.”
His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, condemned the attack carried out by a 49 year old Israeli radical. The man was restrained on site by the Church guard and Muslim and Christian bystanders, before being arrested by Israeli police.
On Friday, December 4, the man entered the church at the Garden of Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, and poured a flammable liquid which he set fire to. A Byzantine floor mosaic and wooden pews were damaged in the fire, which was extinguished before causing widespread destruction or injury.
The Custody of the Holy Land is the body responsible for the protection of Catholic holy sites in Jerusalem. Fr Ibrahim Faltas from the Custody called the attack “a crime, a crime that shouldn’t happen in a church in the Holy Land.”
Patriarch Theophilos, who has repeatedly called for greater protection for Christian sites in the Holy Land, added “I call on the international community to take its role in protecting Christian shrines, and preserving the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
Only last week, the Patriarch appeared at online events in Westminster and Washington DC to promote this message. On December 2, he spoke to a U.S. State Department conference, hosted by U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. On Monday 30 November, the Patriarch was a guest of honour at the inaugural meeting of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Christianity in the Holy Land in the UK Parliament.
Commenting on the attack on the Gethsemane Church, the Chair of the new APPG, Steve Double MP, said: “This attack at a site of great significance to Christians worldwide reveals the threat that radical groups pose. Incidents like this demonstrate why we have established a new APPG on Christianity in the Holy Land to help ensure it remains a place where Christians can continue to live, flourish and thrive.”
Condemnation of the attack has also come from the Jewish community. Lord Howard of Lympne, the former leader of the Conservative Party and a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews, said “We deplore this attack on a Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem. Jewish people around the world stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they face persecution because of their faith. Attacks like this redouble our efforts to improve relations between faith communities and build societies based on peaceful coexistence.”
Anita Delhaas, Chief Executive of the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre, an organization established to support the churches of the Holy Land, said “Christians in the Holy Land face many challenges to preserve their ancient heritage and present livelihoods. More than ever, Holy Land Christians need friends, supporters and advocates in Europe and America to speak up and take action to prevent incidents like this from happening in the first place.”
His Beatitude Theophilos III has served as the Patriarch of Jerusalem since 2005. The See of Jerusalem was founded by St James the brother of Jesus. The Patriarch of Jerusalem is acknowledged by the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian authorities, as well as by the other Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, as the senior Christian leader in the Holy Land.
The International Community of the Holy Sepulchre was established in 2018, uniquely with the support of all 13 Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, to secure a brighter future for the Christian community in the Holy Land. It connects Holy Land Christians to the global Christian community, makes sure their voices are heard and acted upon by influential leaders, and directly supports the Christian presence in the Holy Land and the work of its churches.