12/19/2012, 00.00
MALAYSIA - ISRAEL

Malaysia removes restrictions on Christian pilgrims to Holy Land

The ceiling on the number of pilgrims is removed; it was 700. The number of days is extended to 21 days from 7. Before, each Church could only bring f 40 people. For Catholic priest, the change brings happiness ahead of the festivity.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agenzie) - Malaysian authorities have lifted quotas and other restrictions on Christians who want to travel to Israel and the Holy Land. The decision was taken in November but was made public only as applications for travel to Jerusalem went up. It comes after a long feud between the government and minority Christians and might affect next year's election.

Predominantly Muslim Malaysia bars travel to Israel but the government has previously allowed Christians to travel to the historic city regarded as holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

According to the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the government imposed a quota of 700 pilgrims per year, with any one church only allowed to send a group of 40.

But a letter sent from Prime Minister Najib Razak's office to CFM president Ng Moon Hing on 28 November said these limits no longer applied save that visits could be for a maximum 21 days.

Following the controversy over the use of Allah also for the Christian God, a case decided in Christians' favour in court, Malaysia's Christian minority has had to face a period of difficulties, tensions and violence, including attacks against its churches and buildings.

With restrictions gone, some peace of mind has come to them on the eve of Christmas celebrations.

"We are grateful we can once again go to worship in the Holy Land," said Fr Lawrence Andrew, former Herald Malaysia editor of Malaysia's only Catholic weekly.

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