ACN News: Thursday, 12th April 2012 – Israel/Nazareth
High res. image available on request
Stopping the trend toward radicalization – provocations in Nazareth undermine dialogue
‘“And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.” – Holy Qur'an.’ This thinly-veiled threat of damnation hangs before the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Native Christians find this Koran quote discriminating. It also provokes pilgrims from all over the world, who this Easter once again flocked to the Holy Land. This poster is just one of many that a radical Islamic group has put up. Since last year, the English-language banners have been hanging next to the driveway to the holy place where the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of the Lord. It is impossible to overlook them, as large and garish as they are. The fact that they are written in English shows that they are intended for everyone’s notice, particularly the pilgrims.
The Moslems’ Holy Book discusses Jesus and Christians’ belief in him at multiple points. The Koran seeks to refute the divinity of Christ because it is not reconcilable with the Islamic belief in the unity of Allah. Thus, another poster proclaims, ‘“Say: He is Allah, The One and Only, Allah, the Eternal, Absolute, He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten, And there is none like unto Him.” Holy Qur'an.’
The Islamic group behind these actions, in part made up of outsiders, has been trying for years to provoke confrontations with Christians. This effort is obviously aimed at undermining initiatives to promote dialogue and reconciliation between the religions in the Holy Land. For example, the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has for years been supporting projects that seek to support an increasingly hard-pressed Christian minority, with the goal of attaining a peaceful coexistence between all religions and faiths. Supported organisations include the Bethlehem Catholic University, which is open to students of all religions, and the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR).
(One of many posters that a radical Islamic group has put up. Since last year, the English-language banners have been hanging next to the driveway to the holy place where the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of the Lord)
Already, around the Holy Year 2000, Nazareth was drifting toward an out-and-out cultural war when plans were revealed to build a mosque on public land next to the Basilica of the Annunciation. The cornerstone was laid. Even Palestinian President Arafat opposed this, although Nazareth was outside of his remit. However, Israel’s Barak government issued the building permit in 1999, which was itself, however, a compromise: the original plans of the Muslim group “Islamic Movement” called for a much larger structure that would have blocked the dome of the neighbouring Basilica.
However, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem at the time condemned the concession as an attempt by Israel to split the Arab population along religious lines. In 2003, the government reconsidered and forbade the construction following issuance of a court order. Bulldozers tore up the foundations. Pressure from the Bush government is said to have played a role as well.
Posters have been hanging in Nazareth again for months now. In previous years they were always taken down. The visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 was affected as well. The city, governed by a Christian mayor, does not want to engage in the confrontation the Islamists are seeking and condones this as a form of freedom of speech – even though some posters are hanging on public land.
Patriarch Fouad Twal is not disposed to accept this situation. In his sermon on the occasion of the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March, he demanded the removal of the posters, to the thunderous applause of the packed Basilica. His Nazareth-based Vicar for Israel, Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, has urged this demand multiple times. To date in vain.
Interview with Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel in Nazareth and Auxiliary Bishop in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Q) Your Excellency, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians enjoy religious freedom. Do you agree?
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo: “That’s not entirely accurate. Israel is not the only country; think of Jordan. But it is true that we Christians do indeed enjoy full individual religious freedom in Israel, unlike in the other countries of the region.”
Q) But isn’t that more a generous freedom of worship in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan? Conversions from Islam to Christianity have legal consequences there too.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo: “That’s not so easy in Israel either owing to social pressure. For example, I can think of several persons how are in grave social difficulties on account of their conversion. However, legally it’s possible. And that must be so, because there is no true freedom of religion without freedom of conscience.”
Q) We’ve recently been hearing of churches in Jerusalem being defaced by anti-Christian graffiti. For example, “Death to Christians” was sprayed on a Baptist church there in February. Is this type of incitement typical of Israeli society?
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo: “The perpetrators are of course extremists. It is suspected that militant settlers may be behind this. But even if they don’t represent the majority of society, they do stand for a radical trend that must be stopped. Once this door is opened, one can’t know where all this will lead.”
Q) But you certainly can’t complain of a lack of public condemnation of these incidents from Israeli officials, from the mayor of Jerusalem up to the president of the nation.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo: “That’s true. But words must be followed by actions to ensure that this cannot occur again. The authorities have a responsibility here. Also, although individual religious freedom is granted, the Church is confronted with enormous practical difficulties in its institutions. The treaty between Israel and the Holy See is almost twenty years old and still not ratified, which affects such issues as taxation. That makes for great difficulties for our schools, hospitals and other charitable institutions. We are still waiting for the return of Church property confiscated by Israel. There’s still a lot to be done here.”
Q) You have your residence in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, Last year, radical Moslems put up posters intended to refute Christ’s nature as the son of God right in front of the Basilica. Do you have problems with Islam in Israel as well?
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo: “As a church in the Middle East, we have long experience in coexisting with Moslems. But these posters do indeed represent an unacceptable provocation. Remember that thousands of pilgrims have to pass them. That offends them. We have thus demanded that the city take down these posters. And I’ll be happy to reiterate this. Unfortunately, nothing has happened to date. But particularly the authorities ought to see to it that such radicalism is not tolerated. You never know what that can grow into.”
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