Christian church officials reopened the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem Wednesday, after Israeli officials announced suspension of a plan to impose new taxes on church properties in the holy city.
On Tuesday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it was suspending the tax plan and freezing proposed legislation that would affect the ability of the churches to sell their property, thus averting a showdown between Christian churches and the Jerusalem municipality. Netanyahu said the government would work together with the churches to settle the disputed issues.
“Israel is proud to be the only country in the Middle East where Christians and believers of all faiths have full freedom of religion and worship,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s office. “Israel is home to a flourishing Christian community and welcomes its Christian friends from all over the world.”
In response, church leaders issued their own statement praising the Prime Minister’s decision as a “constructive intervention,” while pledging their willingness to work together with state officials to insure that Jerusalem remains “a place where the three Monotheistic faiths may live and thrive together.”
In a bit of theological irony, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—believed by many to be the site of the tomb of Jesus Christ—was reopened after three days, the same time intervening between Christ’s death and resurrection, according to Christian belief.
Church officials had closed the shrine to protest the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to start collecting taxes on nearly 900 Church-owned properties in the city.
In a statement Monday, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien described the closing of the church as “a rare and desperate initiative to keep Christian life alive in the Holy Land” and a protest of what he called Jerusalem’s “systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land.”
O’Brien, the former archbishop of Baltimore and present Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, said that the proposed tax deal violated “international treaties and centuries of practice,” claiming that taxes on Christian properties would run to “tens of billions of dollars,” which would directly affect the services provided by Christian schools, hospitals, homes for the needy, health care facilities, and pilgrimage centers.
The Times of Israel reported Wednesday that Netanyahu had come under heavy pressure from the Vatican, Orthodox countries like Russia and Greece, and Evangelical Christian groups over the proposed tax plan, which had influenced his decision.
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