03/23/2016, 15.37
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Hundreds of Gaza Christians can travel to Jerusalem for Easter

Israeli authorities have granted travel permits to 95 per cent of those who have applied. Some of the young applicants have not been able to leave their "open-air prison" for eight years. For the first time, the Catholic Church handled the permits issue. For Gaza’s parish priest, we “worked from morning to late evening to prepare all the necessary papers".

Gaza (AsiaNews) – With Easter coming up, Israeli authorities have granted Gaza Christians travel permits to leave the Strip and participate in the celebrations associated with the feast day. Some 95 per cent of travel applications were approved.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem confirmed the positive development in the thorny issue of travel permits, which Israel had repeatedly rejected in the past, and acknowledged that the Catholic Church was directly involved in the matter for the first time. In the past, the Orthodox Church had handled the issue.

At Christmas and Easter, Israeli military authorities, which control the Eretz checkpoint, have the power to issue travel permits on religious grounds. However, most applications tended to be rejected, in particular for people under 35.

The latest news raised enthusiasm among Gaza Christians, happy at the idea of having permits for 45 days. “Many of them posted a picture of their permits on social media”, the Patriarchate’s website said.

Still, such a reaction is symptomatic of the level of frustration and despair that has prevailed for years among Gazans, especially among youth. For many, this is a dream come true, that of getting out of prison.

A few months ago, AsiaNews interviewed Fr Raed Abusahlia, director general of Caritas Jerusalem, who has described the Gaza Strip as "the largest open-air prison in the world: two million people living below the threshold of survival with unemployment at 60 per cent, and poverty at 80 per cent.”

“This situation applies to Gaza’s Christian families as well,” he added, “all 350 of them (1,300 people in total), 34 per cent of whom are without any source of income."

Still, for Christians today is a day of celebration even if logistical– travel and lodging costs – and pastoral problems still have to be solved.

"We had only one day to apply,” said Fr Mario da Silva, the Brazilian priest in charge of the Holy Family Church, Gaza’s only Catholic parish. On 20 February, "890 people went to apply." Many of them were young people who were applying "without much hope" for the umpteenth time for "an exit permit."

"We were about ten people who worked from morning to late evening to prepare all the necessary papers,” Fr Mario explained.

"We did not know how many permits would be granted and, to our surprise, a few days ago we found out that 822 names were approved, plus 25 others added later. That is 95 per cent."

Most importantly, "most young Christians got their authorisation,” the Brazilian clergyman said. “Some of them have not been able to leave for eight years."

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