Church Leaders in Jerusalem Call for Enhanced Security During Holy Week
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all consider Jerusalem a holy city, and all three religions have major religious observances in the coming weeks.
Christian leaders of Jerusalem on March 31 issued a joint statement calling on governing authorities to enhance security at holy sites as Easter approaches.
“As we have all seen in recent months, escalating violence has engulfed the Holy Land. Local Christians in particular have increasingly suffered adversities similar to the ones about which St. Peter wrote,” the patriarchs and heads of local Christians in Jerusalem said in their March 31 statement, which cited the First Letter of Peter.
Some churches, funeral processions, and public gathering venues have become “targets of attack,” lamented the group of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders.
“Some of our holy sites and cemeteries have been desecrated, and some of our ancient liturgies, such as the Palm Sunday procession and the holy fire ceremony, have been closed off to thousands of worshipers,” they added. “This is in spite of our agreements to cooperate with the governing authorities and to accommodate any reasonable requests that they might present.”
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all consider Jerusalem a holy city, and all three religions have major religious observances in the coming weeks. Many will crowd Jerusalem’s Old City during this time.
Easter falls on April 9 for Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar, while many Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter the following Sunday. For Jews, Passover observances will last from sunset on April 5 through April 13. Muslims began their observance of the holy month of Ramadan on March 22.
The Christian leaders issued two different statements at the end of January and the end of February lamenting the “increasing cycle of violence in the Holy Land.”
February witnessed retaliatory shootings and violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in Nablus and the nearby town of Huwara. This conflict followed Israeli leaders’ agreement to halt the expansion of settlements into Palestinian areas.
The Custody of the Holy Land, a Franciscan-headed Catholic body tasked with the protection of Holy Land sites, also reported several recent attacks on Christians. On Feb. 2, a Jewish radical tore down the statue of Jesus and vandalized the statue’s face at the Church of the Flagellation, the first stop on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. In January, a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem was vandalized and in the Armenian Quarter the phrase “death to Christians” was written on a monastery’s walls and a venue used for Maronite Catholic worship.
Other incidents include an attack by religious Jews on tourists at the New Gate near the Custody of the Holy Land headquarters. The attackers committed vandalism and threw chairs, tables, and glasses.
“It is no coincidence that the legitimization of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community,” Holy Land Custos Father Francesco Patton, said Feb. 2.
In January, two ultra-Orthodox members of Israel’s governing political coalition proposed to outlaw “proselytizing,” by which they meant soliciting someone to change their religion. Violations would have been punished by one year in prison and two years if someone attempted to convert a minor. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would prevent the passage of the bill, and one of its sponsors said he had introduced the bill as a procedural matter with no intent to advance it, the Associated Press reported.
Israel said it safeguards freedom of worship for all faiths in Jerusalem, according to Agence France Presse.
Donald Binder, chaplain to the Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem, told Agence France Presse that Israeli forces in recent years have limited the number of Christians who are allowed to attend Easter services in Jerusalem’s Old City.
He said this practice is “clear discrimination” given that “tens of thousands” of Jews and “even more” Muslims have free access to their holy sites.
For their part, the patriarchs and heads of local Christians in Jerusalem called for more cooperation from Israeli officials.
“While we will persevere in these good-faith efforts, we ask the overseeing officials to work cooperatively and collaboratively with us,” they said. At the same time, they called upon the international community and local Jerusalem residents “to advocate on our behalf, in order to help secure the safety, access, and religious freedom of the resident Christian community and the millions of Christian pilgrims annually visiting the Holy Land — as well as the maintenance of the religious status quo.”
“We place our ultimate hope only in God,” they said. “For through Christ’s resurrection, we have the blessed assurance of the Almighty’s gracious providence through the Holy Spirit, a source of divine power that is able to sustain us today, just as it sustained Jerusalem’s first Christians those many centuries ago.”
Their message conveyed Easter greetings “from the Holy City of the Resurrection to faithful Christians around the world, both far and near.”
“It was from here in Jerusalem that the angel first greeted the women at the empty tomb, proclaiming, ‘Do not be afraid ... he is not here; for he has been raised,’” they added. “The fulfillment of God’s promise in the risen Christ has remained the Easter message. For just as Christ has been raised, so too have we been raised with him to a new life in the hope of that same resurrection.”
Citing the apostle Peter, they said that Christ’s resurrection offers us “a new birth into a living hope.” They closed with the proclamation “Christ is risen!” in multiple languages, adding “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”