Israel Takes Step Toward Holy See

Relaxing of Visa Rules Called a Gesture of Good Will

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ROME, JAN. 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- As the Holy See and Israel continue to hammer out the details of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement signed by both parties, Israel has made a gesture of conciliation.

Israel will now make it easier for religious personnel, such as priests and religious, to work and travel in the nation, reported a statement from the Israeli embassy to the Holy See.

"Recognizing the importance of Christian communities in Israel and with the objective of ultimately improving the relationship between Israel and the Holy See, Israeli authorities, and in particular the Minister of the Interior, Meir Shitrit, have proposed some easing up in the issue of visas for church personnel in Israel," explained the embassy statement.

One of the problems in recent years was that priests or religious who were in Israel for many years could not return to the country after leaving, even for a short period of time.

The Israeli embassy said that multiple visas would be granted to "a restricted number of senior members of the Christian churches."

"All the other functionaries," it continued, "will receive a visa to return by seeking the authorization of the Ministry of the Interior before leaving Israel."

The embassy further announced that for religious who are citizens of Arab countries, the processing of their requests would be sped up.

The statement concluded, "Because of the restrictive security measures that Israel is obliged to apply, and which make necessary a rigorous regulation of entrance proceedings and maximal caution in checkpoints, this proposal represents a gesture of great openness and good will on the part of Israel's government."