Catholic leaders demand investigation into arson attack at Gethsemane church

Gethsemane Church
Basilica of the Agony, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem next to the Garden of Gethsemane. |

Catholic leaders of the Holy Land have called for an investigation into an arson attack at a church located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem next to the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Israeli police arrested the suspect, a 49-year-old Israeli man, who allegedly poured flammable liquid inside the Basilica of the Agony and set it alight on Friday, The Jerusalem Post reported. The Catholic church is also known as the Church of All Nations and is situated near Jerusalem’s Old City.

While nobody was injured, pictures have emerged showing scorched pews.

“As we thank God that the fire was quickly extinguished, we thank the police for their swift action and arrest of the suspect. We also demand the police to seriously investigate this arson attack, especially since it seems that it is racially motivated,” said the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, which includes the leaders of the Holy Land’s Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, in a statement, according to Catholic News Agency.

The attacker used a firebomb, according to the Roman Catholic custodian in the Holy Land, Francesco Patton, whose claim is yet to be reconciled with the police report that said the man poured flammable liquid inside the church, The Washington Times reported.

The majority of Christians in Israel are Arabs and churches in the Holy Land have mostly been attacked by Jewish extremists, according to reports. In the attack on the Gethsemane church, the suspect "is believed to be a Jew who holds extreme views, although no details were initially confirmed,” the Jerusalem Post added.

Last June, three young Jewish extremists reportedly spat on Armenian Apostolic Orthodox seminarians in Jerusalem’s Old City, and shouted, “Death to the Christians” and “We will wipe you out of this country,” according to CNA, which said Ordinaries’ earlier requests to discuss such attacks with the Israeli prime minister were denied.

“We hope for a serious investigation, especially with regard to motive, because if the motive is truly suspected to be racist, I believe many conclusions should be drawn,” Wadie Abunassar, adviser to the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries, was quoted as saying.

The Basilica of the Agony is called the Church of All Nations because 12 countries funded its rebuilding in 1919.

The church “enshrines a section of bedrock identified as the place where Jesus prayed alone in the garden on the night of His arrest,” Jewish Virtual Library says. “Although it is not certain that this is the exact spot, the setting does fit the Gospel description. … A rock on the way up to the Mount of Olives is mentioned by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333, who identifies it as the place where Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.”

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