Marian shrine vandalized in Israel
Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal of Jerusalem expressed grave concern about the vandalizing of the Shrine of Our Lady at Deir Rafat near Jerusalem. The perpetrators, believed by some to be Jewish radicals, have not yet been apprehended.
Visiting the site on April 2, Twal said, "We condemn these attacks in the strongest terms. We feel sorry for the young people who carried them out. At the same time we ask ourselves what's behind it. At what school do they learn such a mind-set?"
"Such acts are bad for us Christians, but also for Israel. I don't believe this is a proper way to receive the Holy Father here next month.”
“But they are also bad for those who do such things. I hope the Israeli authorities apprehend the perpetrators and hold them to account.”
“At the same time this will not be enough. The main thing is to institute a new kind of education imbued with greater openness and respect towards others."
The Patriarch told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that he couldn't explain why Christian institutions in particular have been the target of such attacks for years now.
"We should ask the people who are behind them. This is where cloistered Sisters pray for peace in the Holy Land. They are completely apolitical. I came here to encourage the Sisters to have no fear.”
“I will also ask them to pray for the perpetrators. I think these people are sick."
During the previous night, unknown persons had sprayed blasphemous graffiti in Hebrew on the outer walls of the shrine to Our Lady Queen of Palestine, such as "Jesus is an ape and Mary is a cow.”
They had also slashed the tires of cars parked nearby.
In other graffiti, the US was compared to Nazi Germany, a possible reference to the current peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians which are being supported by American mediation.
Church leaders and Israeli authorities suspect that the perpetrators are members of the so-called “Price Tag” movement, comprised of youth opposed to initiatives that oppose Jewish settlements in the Israeli-Occupied Territories.
These radical vandalize Palestinian property, including mosques, and perpetrate attacks on Israeli security forces as well.
Christian targets are chosen, analyst says, as such attacks spark greater international attention.
Patriarch Twal had already complained about the attacks in his 2013 Christmas message when he said,"We realized that in our Diocese this year, there has been an increase in acts of vandalism carried out by extremists that affected some twenty holy places or places of worship."
In fact, dozens of attacks on Christian institutions have been reported in the past few years.
Among other things, Christian cemeteries in Jerusalem were desecrated, church walls were daubed and the door to the Trappist abbey of Latroun between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was set on fire. Israeli authorities have repeatedly condemned these acts.
But those affected often complain that investigations and the pursuit of perpetrators are very sluggish.
The Shrine at Deir Rafat is the central Marian shrine in the Holy Land. Established in 1927 by Patriarch Luigi Barlassina, the Mother of God is invoked here as the "Queen of Palestine.” This title does not imply a political opinion, as the adoration of Mary under this name has been practiced since long before the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948.
For a number of years, three Servite Fathers have served at the shrine. There are also 12 nuns of the contemplative community Sisters of Bethlehem living in strict retreat at this place. The shrine's pilgrimage festival is celebrated at the end of October.
The Sisters were not available for comment. Father Roch Boulanger, a member of the Servite community, said that prayers were being said for the perpetrators.
"Perhaps their sin will provide an opportunity for them to change their ways," the Canadian priest said.
With picture of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fuad Twal, at Deir Rafat near Jerusalem (© ACN)