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Thousands protest against ‘hate crime’ attack on historic Galilee church

Fire damage at the Benedictine Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha (CNS)

Thousands of Christians attended a rally in Israel yesterday to protest against an arson attack against a historic church in Galilee.

The event took place in the compound attached to the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, built on the historic site of Jesus’s miracles of the loaves and fishes.

The church was attacked last Wednesday, the fire causing extensive damage, with graffiti in Hebrew denouncing “false idols”. An adviser to the Catholic Church blamed Jewish extremists for the incident, which has been widely condemned by religious and secular authorities in Israel.

Inside the church former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, auxiliary of the Latin Patriarchate, celebrated a Mass attended by hundreds of young people attended, many carrying crosses and waving Vatican flags.

Afterwards hundreds blocked the roads outside, chanting about Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

The Mass was attended by the American Deputy Chief of Mission William Grant, who told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he wanted to express his condemnation at a “hate crime”.

Jewish, Muslim and Druze clergymen have also come to the church to express support.

Meanwhile, Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’s department of international affairs, has spoken of his “great sadness and deep regret” at hearing the news of the attack on the church.

“This is an important church in our tradition that is revered by Christians worldwide,” he said.

“Attacking, desecrating and damaging any church or house of worship anywhere in the world is an inexcusable act. This is more so in the Holy Land that is home to followers of the three monotheistic traditions. Yet, Rabbis for Human Rights stated there have been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

“Today, I call upon the competent Israeli authorities not only to arrest those responsible for such attacks that take religious bigotry to a new level but also to ensure that such incidents do not continue unchecked. The whole region can certainly do with less of those vicious attacks.”