Holy Land church heads denounce Easter fracas, demand full access

(Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad)Orthodox Christian worshippers hold crosses as they take part in the Eastern and Orthodox Church's Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City May 3, 2013. Thousands of worshippers retraced the route Jesus took along the Via Dolorosa to his crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Holy Land church leaders have condemned Israeli armed forces' action while deployed at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City as Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter.

They called on Israel to allow full access to Christians during Easter, the most important Christian event celebrating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion.

The heads of the main churches in the Holy land issued their joint statement on May 12, a week after the condemning action by Israeli armed forces deployed at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City as Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter.

"We, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, watched with sorrowful hearts the horrific scenes of the brutal treatment of our clergy, people, and pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem during Holy Saturday last week.

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"A day of joy and celebration was turned to great sorrow and pain for some of our faithful because they were ill-treated by some Israeli policemen who were present around the gates of the Old City and passages that lead to the Holy Sepulcher."

The Times of Israel online reported on May 12 that last week's Coptic Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was marred when police at the site prevented three Egyptian diplomats from participating, including Mostafa Al-Qouni, the second-highest-ranking Egyptian at the Tel Aviv embassy.

It said a Coptic bishop who was with Qouni beaten during the incident who briefly lost consciousness was treated at a Jerusalem hospital and later released.

The church heads said they understood the necessity and importance of the presence of security forces to ensure order and stability, and for organizing the celebration of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Resurrection.

"Yet, it is not acceptable that under pretext of security and order, our clergy and people are indiscriminately and brutally beaten, and prevented from entering their churches, monasteries and convents."

The church heads urged Israeli authorities especially its Ministry of Interior and Jerusalem police department in Jerusalem, to seriously consider their complaints and to hold responsibility and to condemn all acts of violence against those ill-treated by the police.

They deplored that each year, the police measures are getting tougher, while saying that did not want "these accidents" calling for more sensitive handling by police.

"We also denounce all those who are blaming the churches and holding them responsible of the Israeli measures during Holy Week celebrations.

"On the contrary, the Heads of churches in Jerusalem condemn all of these measures and violations of Christians' rights to worship in their churches and Holy Sites," said the church heads.

"Therefore, we condemn all measures of closing the Old City and urge the Israeli authorities to allow full access to the Holy Sites during Holy Week of both Church Calendars [Latin rite and Orthodox]."

The Heads of Churches of Jerusalem

Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarchate

Patriarch Norhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate

Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land

Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem

Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate

Aba Fissiha Tsion, Locum Tenens of the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate

Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate

Archbishop Moussa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate

Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

Bishop Pierre Melki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

Mgr Joseph Antoine Kelekian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

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