One of the most sacred Roman Catholic places of worship in Israel called the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes reopened on Sunday (12 February) 20 months after it was destroyed by Jewish extremists.

A special mass was offered at the church and President Reuven Rivlin along with his wife Nechama attended the service.

"We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution. And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state – who believe in the rights for everyone to worship God according to their belief," Rivlin said.

"The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burnt walls and the terrible graffiti. Today, I visit here again, and see the renewal of this historic, special, and holy place. I want to thank all the people who worked hard to restore this place, and to say clearly; that hate cannot win," the president added.

The church at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee is visited by hundreds of thousands Christian pilgrims each year as Catholics believe that is where Jesus Christ performed a miracle and multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5,000 people.

The church remained closed after the arson attack by extremists in June 2015, which caused extensive damage to a book shop and other buildings in the complex. But it did not destroy the 5th Century mosaic floors, one of the key archaeological features at the church.

According to reports, 16 youths from the West Bank were arrested in connection with the attack. However, only three people were indicted but have not yet been sentenced.

The church was reopened for pilgrims after extensive renovation work that cost around $1m (£800,000) – of which the Israel contributed almost $400,000.

Jesus miracle church
A relic is seen on the floor of the Church of the Loaves and Fishes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel after the arson attack - File image REUTERS/Baz Ratner