Church official: Pope's trip to Israel in doubt

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 27, 2014 at 11:21 am •  Published: March 27, 2014
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JERUSALEM (AP) — A top Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land said Thursday that a trip to Israel by Pope Francis in late May is now in doubt because of a strike by Israeli diplomats, even as the Vatican said travel preparations were going ahead.

A cancellation of the trip could embarrass the Israeli government, which has been excitedly gearing up for the visit. It is to be just the second foreign trip for Francis since he became pope a year ago.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the top Catholic clergyman in the region, told reporters in Jerusalem that he was hopeful that the trip would go on as planned. But he warned that if the diplomats' strike continues, Israel may be removed from the itinerary.

"If the strike will go two months, I don't think that we can make the visit to Israel," he said. Planned stops in Jordan and the West Bank during the May 24-26 trip will not be affected, he added.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry coordinates all visits by foreign dignitaries, handling everything from logistics to protocol. A diplomat said that another government ministry could theoretically take over this work, but that it would be difficult because of the lack of familiarity with procedures and standards. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the strike.

The Foreign Ministry went on strike this week, demanding higher salaries and better work conditions. The strike has closed Israel's more than 100 embassies and consulates for the first time. Diplomats had already reduced operations in recent weeks in a prelude to the strike. Among their demands are cost-of-living adjustments and protecting the jobs and conditions of diplomats' spouses who give up careers when their families are sent abroad.

Twal said the Israeli government has assured the church that the trip will not be disrupted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office declined to comment.