20-Dec-99 -- EWTN Feature Story
JERUSALEM (FIDES/CWNews.com) – In the town of Nazareth, fundamentalist
Muslims have stepped up pressure to intimidate Christians in the wake
of an Israeli government decision allowing the construction of a
mosque adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation. Now a leaflet is
being circulated, threatening the life of Pope John Paul II.
The FIDES news agency reports that the leaflet-- which is written
Arabic, and unsigned--features harsh anti-Catholic slogans and
threatens violence if the Pope "dares to make the 2000 visit."
The leaflet, which has been circulating in Nazareth for a week,
Christians living there that if the Pope visits the town in March
2000, "We will burn down your homes with our own hands. The whole
world will watch us and the press will write about us."
The leaflet announces that all of the religious sites of the Holy Land
are rightfully the property of Islam, and "the cross must disappear,
and Islam take its place."
Building on the controversy over the mosque near the Basilica
Annunciation, the leaflet says: "the church of the Annunciation must
be purified of the infidels who have sullied it." The unknown authors
of the leaflet proclaim that they will turn the basilica itself into a
The Franciscan Custodian of the
Holy Land, Father Giovanni
Battistelli, told FIDES that "there is great sadness and anxiety among
the local Christians, despite words of reassurance" from several
Israeli government ministries. "The leaflet," he explained, "has
increased tension and already caused violence near the Basilica of the
The Franciscan priest related that several incidents
near the basilica, which has been the focal point of tensions for
almost a full year:
"On Friday a young Christian from Nazareth was
wearing a cross and chain around his neck, was slapped; a group of
pilgrims were insulted. Days earlier, fundamentalists hurled stones
and rocks at the Church of St Joseph, pilgrims had to take refuge
inside, and one of our fathers was spat upon."
Father Battistelli also reported that, in direct
violation of an
agreement forged by the Israeli government, an Islamic fundamentalist
group has set up a tent in the public square outside the Basilica of
the Annunciation. The Islamic group had laid a claim on the property
in the square, announcing plans to build a mosque there, and setting
up a tent to proclaim squatters' rights. The Israeli government--
ignoring repeated Christian pleas and protests-- had allowed
construction of the mosque, with the proviso that the Islamic group
would clear the square. That proviso is now being ignored.
Father Battistelli said that Israeli authorities appear reluctant
become involved in the controversy, and even to safeguard the
Christian community. He reported that when Church officials scheduled
a meeting to go over security procedures for the Christmas
celebrations in Nazareth, police failed to show up for that meeting.
Father David Jaeger, OFM, one of the architects of
agreements between Israel and the Holy See, is now in Nazareth. He
told Fides that the people there are worried. In their view, the
decision by the Israeli government to allow the mosque construction
showed the power of a small fundamentalist group. That group, buoyed
by their success in obtaining permission to build the mosque, is now
even more aggressive.
However, Father Jaeger has spoken with several more moderate
leaders in Nazareth, all of whom have assured him that the
fundamentalist group is unrepresentative of the Muslims in Nazareth,
and that the threats contained in the controversial leaflet are
embarrassing to other Muslims. Father Jaeger pointed out that many
Islamic leaders-- from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as the
Palestinian Authority-- have opposed the building of a mosque on that
particular site in Nazareth, on the grounds that the project will
inflame tensions and divide the community.
Father Jaeger holds out the hope that the Israeli
reconsider its approval for the mosque construction process, FIDES
reported. From his perspective in Nazareth, Father Jaeger told the
Vatican news agency that "a top-ranking personality-- whose name I
cannot reveal--confirmed to me that the government is seriously
reconsidering the question."
He said that there are two reasons for the government's willingness
think twice about the controversy. First, Israeli government
authorities are under pressure from Christian leaders, both in the
country and around the world. Second, government officials are
beginning to recognize the dangerous precedent that could be set by
bowing to the will of a fundamentalist Muslim group.