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Israeli police said a man set fire to a prayer book in a Jerusalem church near a sensitive holy site where Pope Francis had just finished celebrating Mass.
Jerusalem police say that according to eyewitnesses, the suspect had a “non-Jewish” appearance, and that monks at the Dormition Abbey, which is said to mark the final resting place of Mary, said they saw a strange man who was not wearing a skull cap.
He said the fire took place after the Pope finished celebrating Mass at the nearby Cenacle, which is thought to be built on the site of the room in which Jesus had his Last Supper.
Jewish nationalists had protested in the run-up to the Pope’s visit against allowing the Catholic Church greater access to the Cenacle, which is on the floor above the site held to be the burial place of King David. On Sunday night 26 people were arrested at David’s Tomb after they refused to evacuate it.
Fr Nikodemus Schnabel, of the Benedictine-run abbey, said the burned book contained the personal supplications written down by visitors. A wooden bench and small crosses nearby also caught fire, causing some damage.
“Luckily the organ didn’t catch fire, which could have sent the whole church up in flames,” Fr Schnabel added. “We don’t know who could have done this, but because of the timing, it could be that it was connected to the Pope’s visit.”