Palestinian Roman Catholic priests urged Pope Francis Thursday to press Israel to give them freedom of movement during the pontiff’s upcoming visit, particularly permission to travel to Jerusalem.
“According to the State of Israel, the illegal occupier, we do not have the right to travel to Jerusalem without permission from the Israeli army,” some 20 priests of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem wrote in a letter addressed to Francis.
“This restricts our pastoral mission,” the letter said, adding it was becoming “less and less likely” that they would be granted permission.
The Vatican has issued the priests with passes, but Israel has refused to stamp them with visas, rendering them void for entering Israeli-controlled territory, the letter said.
“Jerusalem is becoming increasingly closed off to Christians from the West Bank,” it said, adding that pressure from the pontiff was “almost a last hope.”
“Can the Holy Father be in the Holy Land without saying anything about the reality of injustice against an entire people held prisoner on its own land?”
Pope Francis’s three-day visit starts Saturday when he flies to Jordan. He will travel on to Bethlehem Sunday morning, then to Israel, where he will spend the rest of the day and Monday in Jerusalem before heading home.
The pontiff has stressed the visit will be “purely religious” as he meets with leaders of other Christian denominations and other religions.
Francis will try to avoid political pitfalls in the sensitive region by being as “balanced” as possible in word and in deed, according to an old friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem presides over 17 parishes for some 17,800 Catholics in the occupied West Bank.