Franciscan Leader Speaks Out on Holy Land Church Arson

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The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land president spoke out on the recent fire that destroyed a large part of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee. The Church is an important pilgrimage destination for Christians across the world.

Fr. Peter Vasko, ofm

In many ways it was a haven of peace and tranquility which has now been disfigured by misguided zealots who have no respect for the religious beliefs of others.

Arsonists set fire to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee. According to Fr. Rif'at Baderto, Editor-in-Chief at Abouna.org, the “fire was set at about 3:00am…on Thursday, June 18, severely damaging church offices and storage rooms. The entire church was saturated with smoke damage.”

President of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, a foundation charged with preserving the Christian presence in the Holy Land, Fr. Peter Vasko, ofm, has led hundreds of pilgrimages. He has brought thousands of Holy Land pilgrims to this very site.

“As President of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land we commiserate with our Benedictine brothers in Galilee at this terrible arson attack on the Holy Site where Jesus multiplied the loaves the fishes along its northern coast,” Fr. Peter said.

“This fire did considerable damage to the inner courtyard of the Church as well as several offices of the monastery with some damage to the interior of the Church.” Witnesses can be seen lamenting the arson in the photographs that continue to surface.

“Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have visited here, have prayed here, have had Mass at this Holy Site. In many ways it was a haven of peace and tranquility which has now been disfigured by misguided zealots who have no respect for the religious beliefs of others.”

Fr. Peter emphasized the importance of religious tolerance. “It is indeed a sad day here in the Holy Land, in Israel, for all the people living here, Jews, Christians and Muslims. There is a great need on the part of all religious leaders in this country to stress the value of tolerance and respect among their adherents.”

When asked about what comes next Fr. Peter said, “At this moment, all we can do is to forgive those who committed this crime and to somehow rebuild again as we try to practice the gospel values that our Lord taught us.”

Quoting a spokesman for the Benedictine community that is responsible for overseeing the Church and attached buildings, Fr. Peter said, "We will not permit a small group of fanatics to divide the people of this land. The injury will always be there as it was a terrible thing for us -but we will overcome it."        

No arrests have been made yet. According to Stuart Winer of The Times of Israel (June 18, 2015), police "had detained 16 suspects in connection with the torching of the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, which was set ablaze early that morning." The group, however, was "released a few hours later."

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Chris Weldon

Chris Weldon
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