"No Doubt We're In The Last Days" News
Sept, 27 2004 Reuters
JERUSALEM - Fistfights broke out on Monday at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre between Christian sects that jealously guard their hold on sections of the shrine built on the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion.
"There was lots of hitting going on. Police were hit, monks were hit ... there were people with bloodied faces," said Aviad Sar Shalom, an Israeli tour guide who witnessed the fight.
The tussle between Franciscans and Greek and Russian Orthodox clerics erupted during a procession through the church on Holy Cross Day marking the fourth century discovery of the cross which some faithful believe was used in the Crucifixion.
A Greek Orthodox cleric said Franciscans had left open the door to their chapel in what was taken as a show of disrespect.
Fighting then broke out at the wooden doorway dividing the Orthodox and Franciscan sections of the church, with clerics and worshippers punching each other, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
Police said they made several arrests and while some people were bloodied in the fracas, no one was seriously hurt.
"This is supposed to be a festive time," Father Pandelemos, an Orthodox cleric, said afterward as he poured oil from a canteen to replenish lamps at a shrine built over the traditional tomb of Jesus.
"We are all Christians, and there is nothing to fight about," said David Khoury, a maintenance worker for the Franciscans, as he mopped the floor of a nearby chapel.
The dispute was the latest to shake the centuries-old church, where each of six Christian sects religiously guard their rights to separate parts of the edifice, as enshrined in a 1757 Ottoman era "status quo" law.
Two years ago, 11 monks were hospitalised after stone-throwing erupted between Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic monks over rights to the roof of the church.