03/06/2006, 00.00
ISRAEL
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Nazareth, couple responsible for attack at the Basilica asks to be forgiven

The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, visits the Habibi family under arrest for having set off firecrackers in the Basilica of the Annunciation: "poor people, they asked for forgiveness and I granted it."

Nazareth (AsiaNews/Custody) -- The couple that set off firecrackers in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth has asked for forgiveness.  The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa visited the Habibis in prison today, saying  "They asked to be forgiven for what they did and I granted them this forgiveness."  The incident at the Basilica had occured in the evening of March 3, just as the first Friday of Lent was being celebrated. 

The Custos explains the difficulties he faced in meeting the couple: "I was wondering what I should do. First I hesitated. Pressure from the mass media did not make me feel at ease. I thought they intended to make a spectacle out of the event. On the other hand, I wanted to meet the family, to listen to them, to understand and forgive them. I think that, being in charge of the Holy Places, we have a serious responsibility to behave in accordance with the Christian message."

The encounter took place at the Nazareth police station, where the couple and their daughter are under arrest.  Fr Pizzaballa was able to see them in private only for a few minutes.  The Habibis were not unknown to Israeli police.  The husband had already tried in the past to draw attention to their family problems through gestures of this kind, for example two years ago in Bethlehem.  They are considered mentally instable. 

Asked why they committed an attack against a church, the Custos said, "They cannot explain what happened. She (Violette Habibi) insists upon the fact she is a Christian." "The family is suffering because one of their children was taken from them by social services. Really, they are poor people. I was deeply touched." (MAB)

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