Israel Continues to Deny Visas to Catholic Religious

Says Superior of Franciscan Custody of Holy Land

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 30, 2003 ( Israel continues to deny visas to religious wishing to enter the Holy Land, despite the commitments assumed with the Apostolic Nuncio, Father Giovanni Battistelli lamented.

«We are unable to obtain from the Israeli government entry and residence visas for Religious,» Father Battistelli, superior of the Fransiscan Custody said in an interview with SIR, the Italian Episcopal Conference news service.

«Despite the agreements signed between the Holy See and Israel, difficulties always arise,» he said.

The situation not only affects the Friars Minor (Franciscans) but also numerous religious of other congregations, the Franciscan said.

«With reference to the custody, there are 15 friars in Israel who are waiting to regularize their position; others are in Italy and Syria. We do not know what we can do so that they can return to Israel,» Father Battistelli added.

«This situation of stagnation causes serious problems for the custody of the shrines of the Holy Places, which are deprived of their necessary presence,» he said.

According to Father Battistelli, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio in Israel, «has communicated the situation, receiving competent answers from the authorities but without results.»

Commenting on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Tuesday visit with George W. Bush, the Franciscan said he was optimistic about the progress of the «Road Map» for peace in the Middle East, and expressed his opposition to the construction of a wall in the West Bank that would separate the Palestinian territories.

«It would distance these two peoples even more and would cut the center of Bethany, where many Christians live in 24 houses with the help of the Churches,» he said.

Father Battistelli confirmed «the progressive resumption» of pilgrimages, especially from Italian dioceses.

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