The Salesian place of worship is located 27 km west of Jerusalem. The attackers caused huge damage, breaking statues and stained glass. The heads of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land condemned the attack. For the Vicar to Jerusalem, the act of vandalism “fits in with the pattern of past incidents”.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the new patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, spoke to AsiaNews about yesterday’s attack against St Stephen’s Church in Beit Jimal by “some fanatics", as he describes them, most likely “Jewish extremists”.
In addition to the "huge damage" caused by the destruction of statues and windows, there is the deep pain caused by "the fanaticism of these groups who do not want to accept diversity and the faith of others."
The place of worship is part of a complex held by the Salesians, which includes a monastery and a cemetery. The latter was desecrated in 2016.
"This is a time of celebration,” Mgr Marcuzzo said. “It is the Jewish (Rosh Hashanah) and Islamic New Year (Raʼs al-Sanah al-Hijrīyah). At such a time of joy and celebration, we got news yesterday of this new attack.”
“Vandals broke into the church and destroyed the crosses, the statue of Our Lady and the stained glass, as well as the faces of the saints."
For the prelate, the damage is not only financial. It is "the fanatical message that this attack carries [based on] an ideology that does not accept the faith, the vision of others.”
“In the Old Testament, it is written to destroy the statues as a symbol of idolatry. Here, these people distort the Scriptures and promote fanaticism. Perhaps it is not a direct attack on Christians, but it is certainly a message against those who do not share their ideology and it is scary because it shows that there is no respect for others. Living together is undermined."
The incident took place "yesterday on the eve of the celebration," the patriarchal vicar explained, "a day that has symbolic value and charge that is even greater than the celebration itself."
"This is an extremely bad occurrence, also because it was carried out on the eve of a celebration of joy and fraternal collaboration."
Beit Jimal is located some 27 km west of Jerusalem and has a great historical value. A tombstone was discovered in the recent past that might indicate the burial site of the saint himself. More than a century ago, important mosaics were also found.
The attack took place less than a kilometre from the chapel dedicated to St Stephen. Only Salesians, a group of nuns and some members of the communities of the monastic family of Bethlehem, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St Bruno still live there.
In a note, the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land condemned the "unpleasant and outrageous" incident, calling on the State [of Israel] and all the agencies concerned "to punish the aggressors and educate people not to carry out such acts." Finally, Christian leaders reiterated the goal of "learning to live together".
In recent years, extremist Jews and settlers have attacked many Christian and Muslim targets in accordance to what has been called ‘price tag policy’, namely the practice Israeli extremists of imposing a “price” on Christians and Muslims for having taken “their land”.
Once limited to areas bordering the West Bank and Jerusalem, it has spread to Israel proper.
One such incidents involved an arson attack against the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Tabgha. Last July, an Israeli court in Nazareth convicted Yinon Reuveni, a 22-year-old Jewish extremist, in connection with the attack.
Reuveni is also a suspect in another arson attack that took place in February 2015 at the Basilica of the Dormition in Jerusalem and of planning more arson attacks against mosques near the Jewish outpost in the West Bank of Baladim, Binyamin region (West Bank).
Yesterday’s attack "fits in with the pattern of past incidents,” Mgr Marcuzzo said. “Perhaps, Jewish extremists did it, but we do not know this for sure. At present, there is no evidence, but it is the same kind of background that led to the attacks in Tabgha and other Christian sites in the Holy Land.” (DS)