Holy Land nuns, priests "treated like illegal immigrants"
For the first time in over 50 years, Israel's government has refused to renew visas belonging to some one hundred nuns, priests and other religious.
The PIME Missionaries' AsiaNews service reports that the crisis is affecting the lives and work of hundreds of priests, nuns and other religious who now must all live under clandestine conditions.
It says that last week, two Most Holy Rosary sisters were stopped by police and a Franciscan brother was also halted in his steps by security patrols.
Requests for the renewal of visas for longtime religious and priests residents are reportedly "gathering dust in Interior Ministry offices". Some religious urgently need to leave Israel to be near their dying parents, but cannot leave the country and risk being refused readmittance.
The visa stalemate is raising questions over the Fundamental Agreement the Holy See struck with Israel, an international accord now in its tenth year. The agreement recognizes the lawful right of the Church to bring in its own workers and carry out activities within its Holy Land institutions.
According to the estimates of some religious officials there are at least 100 "illegals", while the number is ever increasing as visas expire every day and are not renewed.
Holy Land Custodian spokesman Fr David Jaeger OFM said: "Promises made by top ranking government officials have not been kept so far. They won't let us know their reasons behind the new policy."
The Church in the Holy Land is appealing for support from other Churches worldwide.
Pictured: Pope John Paul II appeals to Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Septermber 2002 for a suspension of Israeli aggression
Franciscans and other religious treated like illegal immigrants (Asianews.it 24/3/04)
Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land
Israel - Holy See: no apparent fruit after 10 years of diplomatic relations (AsiaNews 9/3/04)
Israel Govt silence follows Pope criticism of security wall (CathNews 19/11/03)
Key Catholics in Holy Land Echo Papal Opposition to the Barrier (Zenit 17/11/03)
Pope seeks end to attacks on Palestinian authority (CathNews 25/9/02)
25 Mar 2004