May 28, 2014 / 12:03 pm
As Pope Francis concluded his trip to the Holy Land on May 26, an unknown man attempted to set fire to the Abbey of the Dormition, the place where according to tradition the Virgin Mary fell asleep before being assumed into Heaven.
Witnesses told the EFE news agency that an unknown man set fire to a book and placed it on top of a small pile of wooden crosses in between the pews. The fire was immediately extinguished.
“We called the police right away and fortunately the security team for the papal visit was still in place. Firefighters arrived and were able to control the flames,” one of the Benedictine monks at the abbey told EFE.
Israeli police are investigating the incident.
Another witness told EFE that after the Pope's Mass, a group of young ultra-Orthodox Jews accompanied by their rabbi, began verbally confronting the Franciscan friars and accusing them of perverting the Jewish holiness of the building where the Upper Room is located, believed to be the site of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' apostles
Since the 12th century, Jews have held that the tomb of King David is located beneath the building. For this reason, Israeli officials do not allow Mass to be celebrated there except on Holy Thursday and Pentecost. Special permission was granted for Pope Francis' visit.
Located on Mount Zion, the Upper Room was under the care of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land for 200 years, but Suleiman the Magnificent expropriated it in the 16th century, and it came under the control of the Israelis after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
The building has been the target of repeated vandalism and protests in recent years by extremist Jews who demand the expulsion of Christians.