Rome (AsiaNews) -- The meeting of Tuesday, September 14, with Angelo Cardinal Sodano, Secretary of State, revolved around problems concerning visas, tax measures for the Church in Israel and the ownership of the Cenacle in Jerusalem: this is what Avraham Poraz himself, Israeli Interior Minister told AsiaNews, while on visit to Vatican City on the eve of the Jewish New Year. In the afternoon of the same day, the minister also paid a brief call on Pope John Paul II at Castel Gandolfo.
"The visa problem -- the minister explained to AsiaNews -- has been the source of many complaints in the past. For a visa to be issued, authorization was required from another ministry, that of Religious Affairs. The process was complicated and did not work. Now, at the request of Prime Minister Sharon, visas depend on the Interior Ministry alone and this has speeded up the process and improved service. The only difficulty left is for people arriving from countries hostile to Israel (Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries, etc...) who are subject to screenings and can be denied entry. The Vatican says: but we know these people! And so we ask the Vatican to vouch for them. By doing so, the whole question will be greatly simplified. The Holy Said has said that is is prepared to do this. In this way, someone takes responsibility for these people. I think, therefore, that the visa question is all but resolved."
Tax exemptions for religious intitutions was another question discussed in Tuesday's meeting. The minister explained that measures for tax exemptions date back to the British Mandate. The question of tax measures is part of the agenda for the implementation of the Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See. "According to our laws -- Poraz explained -- places of worship (churches, synagogues, etc.) are exempt from taxes. If these institutions include shops or offer accomodations for a fee, then taxes can be levied. The only outstanding problem is concerning monasteries, where religious communities are housed. I have decided that they should not pay taxes, but pay only for municipal services, such as cleaning, sewage, water, etc. Municipalities need these taxes because otherwise they would not be able to offer such services."
Another matter mentioned by Poraz concerns the ownership of the Cenacle, once a property of the Franciscans, then of the Muslims and now of the Israeli government. On the occasion of John Paul II's visit to the Holy Sites in the Holy Land, there had been talk of the possibility of returning the place of Jesus' Last Supper to the Church.
Poraz said that "the problem today is a disagreement among the various Churches on who is to take possession of it. And Israel cannot enter into this disagreement. The Orthodox Church and Armenian Church have the right to pray there, together with the Franciscans. There are problems with the use of all the Holy Sites, but these are settled by the rules of the Status Quo. There are no such rules for the Cenacle. Everyone is expecting a decision from Israel, but there is no concrete decision yet."