The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been closed indefinitely to protest two proposals that Christian leaders see as targeting the presence of Christianity in the region.
Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian leaders united in their decision to close the holy site – containing the areas of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection – in protest of a land bill and taxation policy currently under consideration.
The land bill would allow the state to claim land that was sold by churches to private organizations in recent years. Critics have voiced concern that this would severely hinder the ability of churches to sell land going forward.
A separate taxation policy would remove tax exemptions from Church-owned properties on which there are no houses of prayer. These include Church-run hospitals, schools, and other social outreach facilities.
Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepluchre of Jerusalem, called the recent proposals “alarming.”
“Betraying international treaties and centuries of practice, all Christian properties, except churches themselves, are being taxed tens of billions of dollars. This includes hundreds of agencies, including Christian schools, hospitals, homes for the needy, health care facilities, and pilgrimage centers such as the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem,” he said.
“Many church assets are being frozen, fines threatened, and hundreds of thousands of dollars seized from Christian churches in an effort that will severely curtail Christian freedom of practice.”
The cardinal called for prayer in the wake of these “unprecedented discrimination against Christians.”
A statement released by Christian leaders on Sunday said the proposals “breach existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.”
“The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school,” the statement said.