Churches in Jerusalem close the Holy Sepulcher in protest

In an extraordinary step, for the first time in its long history, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher has closed its doors in protest at unprecedented attacks on the rights and property of the Christian community. This dramatic event took place in Jerusalem on the morning of Sunday February 25th and is part of a protest that will go on indefinitely. The entrance to the shrine most visited by Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land is closed, with a sign saying: “Enough is enough; stop the persecution of the Churches”. The poster also features a picture of the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who in recent weeks unilaterally abolished historically recognized Church exemptions to municipal taxes and mandated that the Churches’ current accounts could be seized to cover arrears.

A declaration regarding the protest has been signed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, the Custos of the Holy Land Br. Francesco Patton, and the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, leaders of the three communities that, on behalf of the entire Christian tradition, administer the Basilica and other major holy sites in Jerusalem.  (Source: Vatican Insider)

The official document can be read below:

Statement on Municipal threats and the discriminatory “Church Lands Bill”

We, the heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulcher and the Status Quo governing the various Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem – the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate – are following with great concern the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing Status Quo.

Recently, this systematic and offensive campaign has reached an unprecedented level as the Jerusalem municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of seizure of Church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes. A step that is contrary to the historic position of the Churches within the Holy City of Jerusalem and their relationship with the civil authorities. These actions breach existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school.

The systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians reaches now its peak as a discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land is being promoted. This abhorrent bill is set to advance today in a meeting of a ministerial committee which if approved would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible. This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.

This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic, ab antiquo and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades.

THEREFORE, and recalling the Statement of the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem, dated 14 February, 2018 and their previous statement of September 2017, as a measure of protest, we decided to take this unprecedented step of closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Together with all Heads of Churches in the Holy Land we stand united, firm and resolute in protecting our rights and our properties.

May the Holy Spirit answer our prayers and bring a resolution to this historic Crisis in our Holy City.

THEOPHILOS III
Patriarch of Jerusalem

FRANCESCO PATTON
Custos of the Holy Land

NOURHAN MANOUGIAN
Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem