Jesus ‘Loaves’ church reopens 20 months after arson attack

President Reuven Rivlin attends interfaith meeting at holy site; Israel contributed $400,000 toward repairs

By AFP and Times of Israel staff
February 12, 2017

Cardinal Rainer Woelki (C) leads a mass at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Tabgha, on February 12, 2017, upon its reopening following eight months of renovation. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

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.

Sheikh Muwaffak Tarīf (2l) Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (3l) Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Woelki (4l) Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein (5l) attend interfaith meeting at the restored Church of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, February 12, 2017, (Mark Neiman/GPO)

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.

A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

“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.

Yinon Reuveni (right) and Yehuda Asraf, suspected of vandalizing the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, are seen at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on July 29, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

“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.