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(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
The Vatican's representative in Israel has expressed his forgiveness to the Havivi family for throwing firecrackers in the Basilica of the Annunciation on Friday and causing a riot.
The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, met with the family on Monday in the office of Amakim District Police Commander Asst.-Cmdr. Ya'akov Zigdon.
Haim Havivi and his wife Violet said they carried out the attack to draw attention to their battle with the social services over custody of their three sons, who are in care. The riot left over twenty people injured and caused minor damage to the Basilica, which is one of the holiest sites in Christianity.
Merie Beaulieu, who works as a journalist for the Custody, said Pizzaballa requested the meeting in order to fulfill what he sees as his religious duty.
"I had the desire to meet the family, to listen to them, to understand and forgive them," Beaulieu quoted Pizzaballa as saying. "I think that, being in charge of the Holy Places, we have a serious responsibility to behave in accordance with the Christian message. The voice of peace is one of forgiveness."
The couple, who have been living off donations from a Jerusalem church, apologized to the prelate and requested his forgiveness, said lawyer Pninat Yanay, who represents the family and helped facilitate the meeting.
"They said they didn't want to hurt anybody," she said. "They cried a lot and said it shows the world that the church is full of good people."
During the meeting, the Havivis hugged and kissed Pizzaballa, who said he was moved by couple's plight.
"The family is at a loss. They are suffering because one of their children was taken from them by the social services. Really, they are poor people. I was deeply touched. They asked for pardon for what they did and I granted it," said Pizzaballa.
On its Web site, the Custody condemned the riot and those who were using the incident to make political capital.
"The Custodyâ€¦deplores the violent mob scenes that followed (the attack), and expresses appreciation for the quick and prudent action of the police who took charge of the delinquents, while at the same time defending the sacred place from the rioting mob," it said.
"The Custody disapproves of the attempt in some quarters to leverage the incident inside the Shrine in pursuit of other interests and political agendas having nothing to do with the matter at hand," it said.
However, it didn't say to which "other interests" or "political agendas" it was referring.