Vandals steal cross from altar of Catholic church in the Holy Land

Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. | Rafael Ben-Ari/Shutterstock

Vandals have stolen a cross from the Catholic church in the Holy Land built on the site where tradition holds that Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying five loaves and two fishes to feed 5,000 people.

Israeli police are investigating the theft of a six inch iron cross from the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, AFP reported Aug. 21.

The cross had been embedded in an outdoor altar made of volcanic basalt rock that was used for Catholic Masses offered along the shores of the Sea of Galilee where the church is located.

Georg Röwekamp, a representative of the German Association of the Holy Land (DVHL) which owns the church property, called the theft an “anti-Christian” act.

"We found in the morning of August 19 that the wrought-iron altar cross had been broken off by force and disappeared," Röwekamp told CNA on Aug. 23.

"As this requires strong physical force, it must have been a deliberate act," he said.

Röwekamp suspects that the vandals arrived on the property by boat as the site where the theft took place was not open to the public at the time.

"We very much regret this incident, which worries us - not at least after the arson attack in 2015, when persons also entered our premises," he said.

This is not the first act of vandalism against the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in recent years.

An arsonist torched the church property in June 2015 badly damaging the church entrance, adjoining Benedictine monastery, and pilgrim office. Hebrew-language graffiti left at the site read "all idols will be smashed".

As a result of the arson, a monk and a staff member were hospitalized and treated for smoke inhalation. The fire damage was estimated at $1 million. The Israeli government contributed almost $400,000 for repairs.

A 23-year-old Israeli extremist was convicted of aggravated arson and two counts of criminal conspiracy for the attack in Dec. 2017.

In recent years Christians say they have been attacked by some groups of Israeli settlers in traditionally Christian regions, and attacks on Christians have also been documented in Jerusalem. Most of the Christians in Israel are Arabs.

The Benedictine Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem has been vandalized on five different occasions in recent years, including with anti-Christian graffiti written in Hebrew. In 2014, an assailant tried to burn the abbey down.

In 2020, there was an attempted arson on the Basilica of the Agony, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem near the Garden of Gethsemane. The church houses a section of rock where Christ prayed the night before his crucifixion.

The fire was quickly extinguished after a 49-year-old Jewish man poured flammable liquid inside the church and lit a fire which damaged a Byzantine mosaic.

Vandals also shattered stained-glass windows and destroyed a statue of Mary in St. Stephen Church in the Beit Jamal Salesian monastery, 25 miles west of Jerusalem, in September 2017.

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The present Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes was built in the 20th century, though a church was first built on the site by at least the mid-fourth century. The present church includes mosaic floors from the fifth century, which were not destroyed in the arson.

The Benedictine monastery attached to the church was founded in the 20th century. The current building was opened in 2012, including a private oratory for the monks which was financed with support from the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

St. John Paul II visited the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes during his apostolic journey to the Holy Land in 2000.

"We would like to emphasize that many Israeli guests are currently visiting the church and our guesthouse, which we are very pleased about. They all appreciate the special atmosphere of the place and many have already expressed their rejection of such actions," Röwekamp said.

This story has been updated since first publication to include a statement from Georg Röwekamp.

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