Liberty in Mideast Restricted as Holy Week Nears

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Laments Situation

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JERUSALEM, APR. 6, 2001 ( Religious liberty is not guaranteed in the Holy Land this coming Holy Week, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem lamented.

Patriarch Sabbah, an Arab who is the leader of Latin Catholics in the Holy Land, spoke after the visit of a U.S. study commission on religious liberty, which was headed by Washington´s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and included Muslim and Jewish leaders.

Speaking to the Italian newspaper Avvenire, the patriarch said the primary threat to religious liberty in the Holy Land is due to «the political situation and to all so-called security measures and subsequent reprisals.»

Specifically, the Catholic leader mentioned «the closing of Jerusalem to Christian faithful, and the closing of roads between different villages in which there are parishes.» Some days ago, the patriarch himself was stopped at an Israeli control post and not allowed to visit parishes.

The problem of religious liberty is also due to existing tensions between Christians and Muslims. «The very instability of Palestinian society, which is a consequence of political instability — limitations on freedom of movement, the confining of people in their cities and villages, without being able to ´to breathe fresh air´ outside — creates tensions at all levels between Muslims and Muslims, Christians and Christians, and Muslims and Christians,» the patriarch acknowledged.

Tensions have led to an increase in the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, he added. «Over the past months [the exodus] has increased, following the bombing of the Christian centers of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Ramallah.»

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