GENEVA, Tuesday, March 21, 2023 (WAFA) – World Council of Churches general secretary Jerry Pillay today condemned an attack by Jewish extremists that took place in the Church of Gethsemane, also known as Church of All Nations, in occupied East Jerusalem and expressed solidarity with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in calling for international protection of holy sites.

“This terrible attack – which appears to have purposely targeted religious leaders – is an egregious violation of international law,” he said. “We stand in solidarity with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and all those calling for protection of holy sites, and we reiterate our calls for such protection during Christian holidays and during all days of importance for all faith communities. The WCC is extremely concerned about the increasing attacks on holy sites in Jerusalem and deems it necessary to facilitate a meeting of key religious leaders in the near future to discuss what can be done to stop these uncalled-for attacks on religious leaders, sacred places and institutions.”

In a statement on Sunday, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem condemned what it described as “the heinous terrorist attack” that took place that morning during the Sunday service, at the hands of two Israeli radicals, which targeted the Church of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, where the Tomb of the Virgin Mary lies. The Patriarchate also denounces the attempt to cause physical harm to Archbishop Joachim, who was leading the service, as well as the attack on one of the priests in the church.

The Patriarchate deplored this “atrocious crime, which came at the time of Lent preparations for the Easter celebrations and its traditional rituals, especially Holy Light Saturday, which has become a marker of seasonal suffering for Christians as a result of physical restrictions imposed by the authorities to prevent them from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to exercise their God-given right to worship.”

The Patriarchate also emphasized that “terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties, in addition to physical and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, have become almost a daily occurrence that evidently increases in intensity during Christian holidays. This dismal situation hasn’t drawn any appropriate reaction, locally or internationally, despite appeals, requests, and protests made by the Churches of the Holy Land. It is painfully clear now that the authentic Christian presence in the Holy Land is in great danger.”

The Patriarchate affirmed that attacks on Christian holy sites, properties, heritage, and identity constitute a violation of international law, which explicitly calls for the protection of religious sites in Jerusalem and emphasizes the need to respect this basic human right to worship freely.”

It pointed out that “Jerusalem is a city extremely important for all Christians since the time of Jesus Christ. The Holy City is a witness to the most significant events in Christian history, that are deeply rooted in the Christian faith. These facts reinforce Christian connection and attachment to this city, which we as Christians, our churches, holy sites and heritage constitute an essential component of its diverse history, present, and future.”

The Patriarchate emphasized that “this attack on the Church of the Tomb of Virgin Mary in Jerusalem is an atrocious terrorist crime that cannot be justified under any circumstances,’ and called upon the international community “to intervene immediately to provide security and protection to the Christians of Jerusalem and to support the Hashemite Custodianship and its protection of the Jerusalem Holy Sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which are being subjected to deplorable forms of violations and attacks at the hands of radical Israeli organizations.”

The Patriarchate further demanded that the necessary legal m