Worshippers and dignitaries recently attended mass at Tabgha Monastery at the north end of the Sea of Galilee to celebrate the re-opening of the beautiful, historic church damaged in an arson attack two years ago by Jewish extremists.
The church, owned by the German Association of the Holy Land, is believed by some to be the location where Jesus miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fish in order to feed 5,000 hungry men plus women and children, as recorded in Matthew 14:18:
“He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
The perpetrators of the arson attack, who were identified using cameras and DNA evidence, have been indicted for hate crime against a religious minority and await sentencing. The principal perpetrator, Yinon Reuveni, 20, was charged in July 2015 with racially motivated arson at Nazareth District Court.
“Reuveni has extremist views. He sees Christians as idol worshippers and their destruction as a mitzvah,” reads his charge sheet. His partner-in-crime, Yehuda Asraf, 19, was charged with supporting him. (Asraf was acquitted in July 2017.)
We are all equal before God,
and equal before the law
“We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution. And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state who believe in the rights of everyone to worship God according to their belief,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who attended the mass with his wife. “The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burnt walls and the terrible graffiti. Today, I visit here again, and see the renewal of this historic, special, and holy place. We are all equal before God, and equal before the law. I want to thank all the people who worked hard to restore this place, and to say clearly that hate cannot win. ”
Also attending were a cardinal, various Catholic donors, an ambassador, a sheikh, a rabbi and a local politician.
The State of Israel contributed $394,000 of the $1 million required to complete the eight-month repair project, after the fire severely damaged a book shop and other areas, but left the church’s famous 5th century mosaic floors untouched.
Persecution against Christians by extremist Jewish religious groups in Israel does occur, but such overt events are rare. The graffiti painted on the church walls accused worshippers of idolatry. However, according to Roman Catholics, icons and statues do not amount to idolatry, but are used as an aid to worship the one true God according to scripture. They argue that from the early Church Catholics officially condemned idolatry and also point out that the scripture itself allows for the making of images not used as objects of worship: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold” (Exodus 25:18).
Recently, in an article re-published by KNI, Israeli ministry One for Israel accused extremist rabbis of factually misrepresenting Christians and Messianic Jews in some of their publications.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes is now open again for pilgrims to visit. While the church is located in an area that Yeshua likely visited, the Gospel of Luke actually records the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 as taking place near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10,11), giving visitors to Tabgha who want to be truly authentic one more expedition to make in order to complete their visit to Biblical sites.