The church in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes reopened on Sunday, 20 months after an arson attack by Jewish extremists.
Two rooms of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee were vandalized and badly damaged in a June 2015 fire.
The complex reopened to pilgrims following eight months of renovation work at a cost of around one million dollars, of which the state of Israel contributed almost $400,000.
President Reuven Rivlin and his wife attended the interfaith meeting to mark the reopening along with Christian dignitaries, including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Ambassador of Germany Dr. Clemens von Goetze, Sheikh Muafak Tarīf, and Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, as well as Jordan Valley Local Council leader Idan Greenbaum and donors in the Roman Catholic church.
“We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution,” said Rivlin. “And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state – who believe in the rights for everyone to worship God according to their belief.”
The president thanked all those who worked to restore the church.
“The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burnt walls and the terrible graffiti,” he said. “Today, I visit here again, and see the renewal of this historic, special, and holy place. I want to thank all the people who worked hard to restore this place, and to say clearly; that hate cannot win.”
Three Jewish extremists were indicted for the attack on the church, in what was termed a hate crime against Israel’s minority community.