Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem has lamented the recent anti-Christian vandalism of a Catholic monastery and shrine near Jerusalem as “madness.”
The patriarch, visiting the monastery April 1, said that other Christians, like the monastery's nuns, “will continue to pray for these sick minds, so that the Lord takes away their ignorance and their narrowness of mind.”
“However, we must not be silent and we will do everything to ensure that justice is done and that these vandals and fanatics are prosecuted,” he said, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem's website.
The vandals struck Deir Rafat Monastery and Marian shrine near Beit Shemesh, a city to the west of Jerusalem. They committed the vandalism sometime before Monday evening March 31.
They scrawled anti-Christian slurs on the monastery walls, written in Hebrew. Some graffiti disparaged Christ and Mary, including "Our Lady Queen of Palestine" and "Jesus is an ape and Mary is a cow."
Police are investigating the incident, which also left all vehicles parked on the property damaged.
The graffiti included anti-American phrases such as “America is Nazi Germany” and “price to pay (for the) peace agreement.” The latter phrase possibly refers to peace negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Kerry had demanded the release of Palestinian detainees.
Patriarch Twal noted that the monastery's nuns “devote themselves to fast and pray day and night for peace.” He voiced regret “that the imminent visit of Pope Francis, a man of peace, is marred in this way.”
"Such acts are bad for us Christians, but also for Israel.I don't believe this is a proper way to receive the Holy Father here next month. But they are also bad for those who do such things."
He said that in light of such acts, it is necessary in Israel "to institute a new kind of education imbued with greater openness and respect towards others."
“In this Holy Land we do not need these actions. Especially these actions against a monastery where we have sisters just praying for peace. They are not involved in any politics so this really is a bad sign and we regret it very much.”
Patriarch Twal told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the sisters in the monastery pray for peace, and are "completely apolitical," adding that "I came here to encourage the sisters to have no fear. I will also ask them to pray for the perpetrators."
The monastery is home to 12 nuns of the Sisters of Bethlehem, a contemplative community. The shrine is served by three Servite priests.
Fr. Roch Boulanger, one of the Servites, said they were praying for the vandals, adding that "perhaps their sin will provide an opportunity for them to change their ways."
Similar vandalism attacks have been attributed to Israeli extremists who support settlements in Palestinian territory. In 2013, more than 20 Christian sites of the Latin Patriarchate were attacked by vandals.
In September 2012, vandals set fire to the door of the Abbey of Latroun after spray painting blasphemous phrases in Hebrew. In October 2012, vandals attacked the Convent of St. Francis on Mt. Zion, located near the Cenacle complex traditionally regarded as the location of the Last Supper.
In addition to churches, the vandals have targeted mosques, Israeli peace groups, and Israeli military bases, the Associated Press reports.
The attacks have drawn widespread condemnation from Palestinian and Israeli leaders.