Protests against Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem have grown in recent months following the discovery of documents stating that the church sold properties it owned in Jerusalem, which house thousands of residents, as well as assets in Jaffa, Caesarea and Tiberias.
Theophilos celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Kafr Reineh’s Orthodox church on Sunday. He was given a police escort to the church and officers prevented protesters from approaching him and his entourage.
Hundreds of community members shouted at the patriarch as he entered the church, calling him corrupt and unworthy of his high position and urging him to resign. Dozens of community members accompanied Theophilos into the church for mass.
A number of political activists and heads of the Orthodox community in Kafr Reineh published a statement denouncing the patriarch’s visit. They called for people to oppose the church property sales and said that the contracts of the sales were tainted by corruption.
The attempt to block the patriarch’s visit was the first test for local representatives after a conference in Bethlehem last week called for the ouster of Theophilos and reforms in the way the community’s property is managed.
The conference adopted the conclusion that the sale of church property is a national Palestinian issue that threatens the continued presence of the Christian community in Israel.
It called for immediate action to suspend all such transactions and block Theophilos and his supporters from interfering with church assets. It also called on conference participants to boycott the patriarch and refuse to welcome him at receptions, masses and especially Christmas celebrations.
The conference participants admitted that they are not receiving any official support from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, but hope that public pressure will help on that account.
In response, figures in the patriarchate denied the allegations against Theophilos. At a recent press conference in Amman, Jordan, the patriarch claimed the property sales were not recent and said the patriarchate tried to either rescue the properties or guarantee proper payment for them.