Sacred Christian Sites Under Siege

St. Elijah Monastery in Mosul, Iraq

St. Elijah Monastery in Mosul, Iraq

News is breaking this morning of the razing of the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq by ISIS jihadists at the same time that police in Jerusalem say they have arrested a 16 year-old for allegedly scrawling anti-Christian graffiti on a wall of the church where many believe Jesus celebrated the Last Supper.

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting on the tragic destruction of the 1,400 year-old St. Elijah’s Monastery in Mosul by ISIS forces. Newly released satellite photos show that the ancient building has been completely leveled.

Father Paul Thabit Habib, 39, viewed photos of the destruction from his place of exile in Irbil and noted that the structure that had perched for centuries above his hometown of Mosul was now completely gone.

“I can’t describe my sadness,” he said in Arabic. “Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.”

Called Dair Mar Elia, the monastery was named for the Assyrian Christian monk, St. Elijah, who is said to have built the structure between 582 and 590 AD. It was a revered holy site for the Chaldean Catholic community for centuries.

Analysts estimate that the building was destroyed sometime in 2014 with bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers and possibly even explosives. All that is left of the ancient stone walls is a field of gray-white dust.

Suzanne Bott, who spent more than two years restoring the monastery as a U.S. State Department cultural adviser in Iraq, got tears in her eyes when shown a picture of the destruction.

“Oh no way. It’s just razed completely,” said Bott. “What we lose is a very tangible reminder of the roots of a religion.”

Vatican, spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the AP that since the monastery dates back to the time Christians were united, before the break with Orthodox and Catholics, it was a very special place for many.

“Unfortunately, there is this systemic destruction of precious sites, not only cultural, but also religious and spiritual. It’s very sad and dramatic,” Lombardi said.

Dormition Abbey Complex, Jerusalem

Dormition Abbey Complex, Jerusalem

Meanwhile, authorities in Jerusalem have arrested a 16 year-old boy and a 15 year-old suspect on Wednesday for allegedly scrawling anti-Christian graffiti on the wall of the capital’s Dormition Abbey compound of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, where Christ is believed to have celebrated the Last Supper.

According to the Jerusalem Post, words were found scrawled on the walls of the Mt. Zion Benedictine Abbey early Sunday morning which read: “May his name be obliterated,” “Death to the heathen Christians the enemies of Israel” and “Go to hell.”

The incident was met with international indignation.

“This church has been the target of repeated attacks,” said a joint statement issued by Carole Nuriel and Rabbi David Fox of the Anti-Defamation League’s Israel offices.

“Sadly it is but one of an increasingly long list of religious sites, including churches, mosques and synagogues that have been vandalized by extremists who reject the value of religious freedom enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”

The statement continued: “While we acknowledge Israel’s efforts to combat this extremism and call to bring the perpetrators to justice, we share the feeling expressed by many in the Christian community that enough is enough.”

MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, says the vandalism is a hate crime.

“Harassment and harming of places that are holy to Islam and Christianity have become almost constant and no one is held accountable,” Odeh said after the vandalism was reported.

“In Jerusalem members of the clergy have been harassed for years, but lately this phenomenon has become worse, more common, and more violent.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to put an end to the harassment.

“This is an action deserving of every condemnation; there is no place for actions like these,” he said. “Israel is a place where Christians and all other religions enjoy freedom of worship, and the only place in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing.”

An investigation is now underway to determine if this crime is linked to other anti-Christian incidents taking place in Jerusalem’s Old City, such as the burning of the guest book at the entrance of the same compound which occurred just hours after Pope Francis visited Jerusalem in 2014.

The names of the suspects’ ages have been withheld due to their ages. Both were arraigned today where they were remanded by a judge.

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