The pastor of Haifa’s Saint Elijah Cathedral (Mar Elias) condemned over the weekend an exhibition at the Haifa Museum of Art that includes a sculpture of a crucified Ronald McDonald.
“We denounce the exhibition and the injury to the holiest symbol of Christianity by an institution that is supposed to serve citizens of all religions,” the Rev. Archimandrite Agapious Abu Sa’ada of the Greek Melkite Catholic Archeparchy of Acre told Haaretz.
The sculpture was created by Finnish artist Jani Leinon and has been on display in Haifa for months as part of an exhibition called “Sacred Goods.”
Hundreds of Christians protesters gathered in front of the museum on Friday, demanding the artwork be removed. Three police officers were injured by stones thrown at them by demonstrators and a 32-year-old man was arrested.
Abu Sa’ada said Haaretz that he understands that there is a message “from an artist who is himself a Christian believer, yet what is suitable for Europe and the Christian population of Finland is not suitable for our community and cannot be met with understanding.”
In the statement, the church said it respects free speech and recognized that the exhibition is meant to criticize a capitalist society that worships money and consumer goods. It said that the church supports critique, but not through the defacement of the holiest symbol in Christianity.
According to Abu Sa’ada, he and several other priests met with the management of the museum and agreed that a screen would be placed around the work, blocking it from general view, and a sign would warn visitors of potentially offensive content.
They furthermore called upon followers and protestors to refrain from violence and to allow the clergy to attempt to find a peaceful solution to the matter through discussion.
“We as religious people are meant to steer away from violence. Therefore whoever thinks he can defend Christian values with violence is gravely mistaken.”
The pastor also warned against what he called “political interests” within the community and exploiting the event for political gains or as an excuse for violence.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent a letter Friday to Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber after Culture Minister Miri Regev demanded that the museum remove the sculpture
The letter called on the attorney general’s office to clarify to the minister that she has no authority to interfere in the museum’s artistic content.
“The minister’s threat to withdraw government support for the museum is baseless. The Budget Foundation Law does not include even the vaguest clause about prohibiting offensive content due to religious reasons.”
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