Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem Protests Lack of Visas

Religious and Priests Facing Difficulties

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JERUSALEM, APRIL 8, 2004 (Zenit.org).- A papal representative in Jerusalem has presented a complaint to Israel's interior minister and foreign minister about the visa problems of priests and religious in the Holy Land.



On Wednesday, the newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported an incident with Israeli border policewomen who were inspecting the documents and residence permits of 23 Catholic women religious in Jerusalem's Malhala shopping center.

The police obliged the nuns, headed by the 70-year-old superior of the convent, to stand with their faces against the wall while being inspected, as they did not have the required permits because the Ministry of the Interior has delayed in issuing them.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic delegate in Jerusalem, presented a complaint to Interior Minister Abraham Poraz and to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The archbishop stated in his complaint that the delay in processing the permits affects the religious of the Church throughout the country.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry explained that it is a question of religious who arrive from Arab countries. For security reasons, their documents take longer to process, the aide said.

Two weeks ago, the immigration police detained a Franciscan friar of Polish nationality, and were about to expel him from the country, as was the case of hundreds of religious without residence permits, despite the fact that he explained to the officers that he was awaiting the extension of his expired permit.

The expulsion was avoided thanks to the intervention of the Foreign Ministry, the newspaper reported.

Sources of that ministry told the newspaper that "the problems have been aggravated lately."

Gadi Golan, in charge of the Division of Worship in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, acknowledged that the criticisms are becoming a source of concern. According to sources of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Israel has refused to grant residence permits to 130 priests.

A few days ago, the newspaper Haaretz reported that, in response to the Holy See's protests, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has appointed an interministerial commission to resolve the problems.