PH Franciscan in Israel slams rabbi’s ‘church burning’ remarks

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JERUSALEM, Israel, Aug. 13, 2015—A Filipino Franciscan has cried foul over the call of a Jewish leader to set fire to Palestine’s churches and mosques, comparing such “destructive intolerance” to the ban by some Muslim states on religions other than Islam.

Fr. Andres Rañoa, OFM, the Filipino Commissary to the Custody of the Holy Land. (Photo: Angel Cortez, OFM)

“The [extremist] Muslims in Indonesia burn Catholic churches. Apparently, these extremist Jews have same idea against both Muslims and Christians,” lamented Fr. Andres Rañoa, OFM, the Commissary to the Custody (Custos) of the Holy Land, in reaction to the suggestion of Lehava’s Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein to vandalize Christian and Muslim properties in the country.

The Franciscan pointed out the fear of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in Holy Land (AOCHL) is justified in view of the religious and political tensions prevailing in the region.

Delicate situation

“As the Commissary to the Custody of the Holy Land, I understand the delicate situation Christians there have to face. In Israel, religious and priests alike find it difficult to acquire longer residence, among other concerns. The decreasing number of Christians is also alarming. That is why Popes have been visiting the Holy Land in an effort to gain favorable laws for its Christian community,” Rañoa explained.

Part of AOCHL’s complaint reads: “A few days ago, Rabbi Gopstein, leader of an anti-Jewish assimilation extremist movement, Lehava, made the remarks at a panel discussion for Jewish yeshiva students where he did not hesitate to assert that Jewish law advocated destroying the land of idolatry Israel, and therefore churches and mosques could be burned.”

It continues: “These remarks, which came after a troublesome act of vandalism against the Holy Place of Tabgha in Israel, are unacceptable to the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. They incite hatred and pose a real threat to the Christian religious buildings in the country.”

Doing their part

For centuries, the Custody of the Holy Land has committed to conserving and reviving the places in the Holy Land and other Middle Eastern countries associated with Christ.

The friar went on to list down the achievements of his congregation in Palestine despite cases of anti-Christian prejudice.

“The Good Friday collections for the Holy Land partly help finance the various ministries and projects for the maintenance of the various shrines and assistance to pilgrims. The financial report last year of the Custos was preceded by a summary of the Franciscans’ present endeavors,” he said.

Franciscan mission

Among the various objectives of the Franciscan mission, Rañoa mentions the support and progress of the Christian minority.

These include the upkeep of archaeological sites, interventions during emergencies, the liturgies in worship centers, its network of elementary and secondary schools, and assistance to pilgrims.

Besides these, Rañoa boasted the Custody was able to generate as many as 1,500 jobs, grant scholarships to some 150 students, and put up 500 apartments.

“… the Custody also supports and helps grow the dwindling Christian minority in Israel. … Many Arab Christians have left Israel due to laws prejudicial to them. One of them is the restriction to own lands. The Custody, therefore, has decided to build them affordable houses,” he added.

‘Sad news’

For Fr. Dexter Toledo, executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) and also a Franciscan, the proposed arson attacks on Christian property is nothing but unfortunate.

“This is a sad news. It is true that the Franciscans are taking care of the Holy Land since the time of the Crusades. In this modern age, fundamentalism must be replaced with dialogue and mutual understanding,” he said.

The Order of Friars Minor (OFM), popularly known as Franciscans, has an ongoing presence in the Holy Land dating back to 1217.

In 1342, Pope Clement VI named them official custodians of the Holy Places in the name of the Catholic Church. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)

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