Papal Message Conveyed to Harassed Christians in Galilee

Nuncio Appears at Mass in Wake of Attacks

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MAGHAR, Israel, FEB. 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II's representative in Israel brought words of encouragement to Maghar, during a Mass celebrated in the wake of recent attacks against Christians by fellow Druze villagers.



Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio in Israel, became the spokesman for John Paul II's prayers and solidarity with Christians of Maghar, during the Mass in the local Greek-Catholic-Melkite Church of St. George.

"I am here, to convey to the Christian community and to each one of its members the solidarity, the prayers, and the apostolic blessing of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II," said Archbishop Sambi.

He was joined in the celebration of the Mass by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, and by Maronite and Melkite bishops. Representatives of several Christian denominations also attended, reported AsiaNews.

In his address, Archbishop Sambi said that the Israeli authorities themselves described the violence suffered by the Christians of Maghar as a "pogrom" and new "Kristallnacht," bringing to mind the "abominable events in Jewish history."

The papal nuncio urged reconciliation in Maghar, but he also called for compensation for the heavy material and moral losses, and pointed out that the state of Israel did not prevent the attacks.

Maghar is a village of about 18,000 residents, 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the Sea of Galilee. Half of its population is Druze, an offshoot of Islam.

The violence, unleashed Feb. 11-12 by the Druze, was sparked by a false rumor about photos that a Christian schoolboy had posted on the Internet. For two days, Druze youths rioted in the Christian neighborhood under the gaze of Israeli police.

"The Druze attacked us four times," the Catholic parish priest of St. George's Church, Father Abud Maher, told AsiaNews.

"The first two times with the Israeli police looking on, actually withdrawing from the village," the priest said. "I called the nuncio to tell him about the situation. Archbishop Sambi then called the authorities demanding that they intervene."

In a letter of protest sent to Israeli President Moshe Katzav, Patriarch Sabbah lamented the lack of protection of Christians on the part of the Israeli police.

"While a whole battalion of the army guarded a small [Israeli] settlement in Hebron, a neighborhood of Maghar has been semi-destroyed without any reaction from the Israeli police," said the prelate in the Haaretz newspaper.

On Feb. 13, days after the start of the attack, 300 policemen were sent to the village.

Father Maher said the violence left seven people injured, and 70 Christian shops and homes were sacked and set on fire. St. George's Church was stoned, windows were broken and the facade was damaged, he said. A mixed Christian-Muslim commission confirmed these figures, said AsiaNews.

Of the 4,000 Christians who live in Maghar, 2,000 fled from their homes to neighboring villages, said AsiaNews.

Elias Daw, president of the local court of appeal of the Greek-Catholic-Melkite Church, told the Missionary Service News Agency that last Saturday, in the face of the persistence "of fear of new incidents of violence," "90% of Maghar's Christians have left the village."