As Catholics gear up for the Pope’s planned trip to the Holy Land on May 25-26, authorities in Jerusalem–fearing attacks by Jewish extremists–have asked that a “Welcome” banner featuring Pope Francis be taken down.
Police and the Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency, have been concerned, according to Agence France-Presse, that Jewish extremists could increase attacks on Christian sites ahead of the pope’s arrival in an attempt to attract media attention. In the face of roiling tensions, municipal officials felt it necessary to ask a Franciscan center just inside the Old City walls to take down a large “Welcome” banner with a message to Pope Francis written in English, Arabic and Hebrew.
ANTI-CHRISTIAN SENTIMENT INCREASING
The problem of anti-Christian and anti-Muslim vandalism in the Holy Land has been increasing. In April I reported on an April 1 incident in which a Catholic monastery dedicated to Mary, Queen of Palestine, near Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, was vandalized. Anti-Christian graffiti on the monastery walls said “Jesus is a monkey, Mary is a cow.” At the same time, tires were slashed on five vehicles.
Then, on April 3 in the Israeli town of Jish, a Maronite community near Safed in the north, the hate-filled message “Only non-Jews should be removed from our country” was painted on the walls. Forty vehicles had their tires slashed.
My earlier article details multiple similar incidents of vandalism, called “price-tag” attacks, on the part of Jewish extremist groups.
CHRISTIAN CHURCHES DEFACED, AND A DEATH THREAT
Several Christian churches–a total of 14 in the past year, according to Reuters–have been defaced.
And a death threat has been painted in Hebrew on East Jerusalem’s Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center, the site where Pope Francis is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
PROTESTS BY ORTHODOX JEWS
UPI reported on a mass protest on Monday, May 12, when more than 200 Orthodox Jews gathered in Jerusalem. Rabbis with loudspeakers led prayers.
They were protesting Pope Francis’ planned visit to the Cenacle, the site believed to be the location of Jesus’ Last Supper. That site atop Mount Zion is also the tomb of Jewish King David, as well as a 16th century mosque. According to claims by the Orthodox Jews, Christian prayer at the building, outside the fortress walls of the city, is in conflict with Orthodox Jewish teachings.
Rabbi Avraham Goldstein said,
“Under Jewish law it is a big problem. Basically they (Christians) are taking over the place.”
LATIN PATRIARCH DEFENDS POPE FRANCIS, CRITICIZES ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
Pope Francis has a supporter, though, in Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the highest western Christian authority in Jerusalem.
Patriarch Twal held a press conference in which he addressed the problem of anti-Christian sentiment. Images of Pope Francis were being displayed in Jerusalem, said Patriarch Twal, just as they are throughout the rest of the world, to welcome the pope during his visit. In Israel, Patriarch Twal added, it’s common to put up pictures of athletes and soccer players when they visit; and he asked why there should be such criticism over pictures of the Pope.
At his press conference, Patriarch Twal criticized the official non-response to these attacks:
“It damages, of course, the democracy that Israel purports itself to uphold…. The attacks have been met with only verbal condemnation from Israeli leaders and very few arrests. All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”