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Pope visit to Holy Land 'in danger'

Vatican denies diplomats' strike has nixed trip

07 March, 10:38
Pope visit to Holy Land 'in danger' (updates previous).

(ANSA) - Rome, March 7 -Pope Francis's 24-26 May visit to the Holy Land is threatened by a strike by Israeli diplomats, The Times of Israel said Friday.

The paper said the trip had been called off, citing a foreign ministry source.

Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied this.

"The strike may create difficulties but for now there is nothing further as far as we are concerned," he told reporters.

The Times of Israel said "a source at the ministry confirmed to the Times of Israel on Thursday that the pontiff's trip was cancelled because Foreign Ministry workers are currently on strike and are unable to make the necessary arrangements for the high-profile visit". It said the source said the alleged cancellation was likely to cause "large, measurable economic damage, with all the lost tourist revenue that would have accompanied the visit".

In early January the Argentine pontiff announced that he would be visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem in May, as well as Amman, Jordan. The Times of Israel report said: "The Foreign Ministry said that, according to the Vatican, the pope's visit won't be able to be rescheduled, only cancelled.

Francis's trip is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Christian spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Atengora, in Jerusalem.

The trip is the second visit to the Holy Land by Francis, who became pope a year ago after Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in 7600 years to abdicate.

The young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a priest later to become Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, arrived in Israel in 1973, just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. He spent six days confined by the conflict to his Jerusalem hotel, where he studied the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.

President Shimon Peres first invited Francis to Israel immediately after his election as pope, calling on him to visit as a spiritual rather than political leader. "The sooner you visit, the better; in these days, a new opportunity is being created for peace and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace," Peres told the pope at the time.

Both of the pontiff's immediate predecessors visited Israel - Benedict in 2009 and John Paul II in 2000.

In his denial of the report, Father Lombardi said the strike might only make preparations for Francis's historic visit "a bit more difficult".