Just weeks before Pope Francis makes his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in late May, Christians in Israel are grappling with an upsurge in threats and attacks on churches by Jewish extremists.
Last week, an assailant defaced the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, the local headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, scribbling graffiti in Hebrew reading, "Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel." This followed a letter received by a top Catholic official that threatened to kill him and other Catholic clergy in Israel.
Vandals also damaged a Romanian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, spray-painting it with the words: "price tag," "Jesus is garbage," and "King David for the Jews." It was another of a wave of both anti-Christian and anti-Arab graffiti and vandalism that has swept through Israel in recent weeks.
The attacks are largely believed to be carried by Jewish extremists who are now almost daily defacing Christian and Muslim property and places of worship inside Israel and areas controlled by Palestinian authorities. The extremists say their graffiti and vandalism is the "price tag" for the government trying to restrain West Bank Jewish settlers.
On Sunday, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, the Vatican's most senior cleric in Israel, said, "The unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere, the atmosphere of coexistence and the atmosphere of collaboration, especially in these two weeks prior to the visit of Pope Francis."
The patriarch called the price-tag assaults acts of "terror." He accused the authorities of not doing enough to bring the perpetrators to justice, saying, "The actions are drawing ...1