Just 20 months after Jewish extremists tried to burn it down, a church in northern Israel believed to be the site where Jesus performed his miracle of loaves and fish has reopened to pilgrims on Sunday.
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The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, located in Tabgh on the Sea of Galilee, was targeted in an arson attack in June 2015 which left the structure badly damaged. Around a million dollars - almost $400,000 coming from the state of Israel - was spent during the eight-month renovation of the burnt church, Times of Israel details.
The torching of the miracle church damaged a book shop and other structures at the complex. Fortunately, the 5th Century mosaic floors, which are the church's main archaeological feature, are still intact, the BBC notes.
During an interfaith meeting to mark the church's reopening, President Reuven Rivlin delivered a statement about religious persecution and religious freedom. He urged the people to stand up for their right to worship God according to what they believe.
"The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burnt walls and the terrible graffiti," President Rivlin said on Sunday. "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."
Aside from President Rivlin and his wife, other Christian leaders also graced the reopening of the church. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Jordan Valley Local Council leader Idan Greenbaum, ambassador of Germany Dr. Clemens von Goetze and Roman Catholic church donors were also present.
Meanwhile, three Jewish extremists have been indicted for the arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. However, the suspects still have not been sentenced. The said attack was labeled as a hate crime against minorities in Israel.