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Churches clash over holy sites

JERUSALEM (CNS): An ecumenical row over holy sites has spilled over into violence involving monks and other religious officials, according to the Franciscan priest in charge of monitoring an agreement among Jerusalem’s Christian communities.

Franciscan Father Athanasius Macora, who monitors Jerusalem’s Status Quo agreement, said he was very concerned by increased violence involving the Greek Orthodox patriarch.

“It has become a very difficult situation,” he said. “I really think someone, sooner or later, will be killed.”

The violence, Fr Macora said, can be linked directly to the arrival of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos two years ago.

Observers from other Churches say the patriarch’s attitude seems to be one of ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with the other denominations being “uninvited guests”.

Catholic News Service was unsuccessful in repeated attempts to reach the Greek Orthodox patriarch for comment.

The Status Quo is a 19th century agreement that regulates jurisdiction of and access to key Christian sites in Jerusalem for Catholic, Orthodox and other Christian communities. Among those sites is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where tradition holds Jesus was buried.

However, the decree does not properly define the rights of each community, said Fr Macora, and this is the cause of friction at times.

The Greek Orthodox patriarch has had similar confrontations with the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox Churches.

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