Police arrested two youths, aged 15 and 16, in connection with the act of desecration. For the vicar of Jerusalem, the speed of the investigation by Israeli authorities was “a good thing.” Dialogue and education are needed to counter extremism. Reforms must start with schools and textbooks. Bethlehem’s Catholic University offers a course on interfaith dialogue with Christians and Muslims.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The "speed" with which Israeli authorities investigated the matter, and took into custody two Jewish teenagers, aged 15 and 16, is a "good thing," said Mgr William Shomali, auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, following the youth’s arrest in connection with the acts of vandalism against the Dormition Abbey on 17 January.
However, this goes to show that "if teens feel such hate, such intolerance toward Christians, it is not spontaneous, but is the result of indoctrination and education to intolerance". Hence, "It is necessary to examine how school is taught in religious establishments, especially those that are ultra-Orthodox and not under government control."
Police yesterday arrested two suspects two days after insulting graffiti and drawings against hell-bound heathen Christians appeared on the walls of the Dormition Abbey. The two are expected to go before a Jerusalem court in the next few days to be remanded in custody, pending trial.
The Dormition Abbey is a symbol of interfaith dialogue. The attack comes only three weeks after the Salesian convent in Beit Jimal suffered a similar fate. There too, insulting messages in Hebrew – like "Death to the heathen Christians, the enemies of Israel" and "Christians to Hell” – were scribbled on walls and doors.
The abbey and its church stand on the spot where, according to Christian tradition, Mary spent her last night before "falling asleep". A statue of the Virgin sleeping is located in the crypt. During his visit in 2014, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in its church. Pope Paul VI also visited the abbey during his Holy Land pilgrimage in 1964.
For the patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem, the church attack reveals "a terrible hatred" for Christians, who instead are moving decisively "toward dialogue and acceptance." Conversely, a segment of the Jewish community "is going in the opposite direction.”
“This is not a government position,” he noted, “but rather a radical position within the Jewish community held by a minority that preaches hatred and calls for the removal of Christians from Jerusalem and the Holy Land."
For Mgr Shomali, such cowardly acts are the work of a minority, carried out under “the cloak of darkness” by people who "are not brave" and who “do not scare us.” Instead, “We are increasingly determined to stay here, a land in which we have lived for two thousand years. . . . The Holy Land is for everyone. "
"I am sure,” he added, “that dialogue will bear fruit and the proof of it is the pope’s visit to Rome’s synagogue and, shortly, to Rome’s mosque."
These attacks, the prelate went on to say, "do not weaken dialogue but they do show that it [dialogue] must be extended to all classes, schools and universities, in accordance with an educational approach.”
“A case in point. Recently, Mgr Bruno Forte* gave a lecture on Christianity to a Jewish faculty, answering students' questions. This is another effort on the path from education to dialogue."
Any reform must cover school manuals and textbooks, said Mgr Shomali. In government schools, where most youth study, "we need to present different religions in a simple way, with a representative of each faith who can tell the story starting from the texts. This way, there will be real debate, a dialogue."
The Vicar of Jerusalem cites an example in this regard. "At the Catholic University in Bethlehem, there is a 30-session course devoted to interreligious dialogue. A Christian talks about Christianity, and a Muslim, about Islam. Students, Christians and Muslims, ask a lot of questions. For professors, this kind of course is great.”
In the recent past, Jewish extremists and settlers have attacked a number of religious sites, including the church near the Upper Room, the Basilica of Nazareth, and other Catholic and Greek Orthodox places of worship in Nazareth and elsewhere. The latest involved a fire at the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha.
Muslim mosques and places of worship have also been targeted in what Israeli extremists call a "price tag" on Christians and Muslims for having "taken away their land."
Once such actions were limited only to areas on the border with the West Bank and in Jerusalem, but now have spread too much of Israel.
* Mgr Bruno Forte is the archbishop of Chieti-Vasto (Italy).