The Custody of the Holy Land is against the closure of the New Gate

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) –  The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, is opposing Israel's intention of closing the New Gate. "We will accept neither to be buried alive, nor to be restricted in our movements" writes Fr. Giovanni Battistelli, the Custos, in a letter sent to the Israeli Minister of Transport, Mr. Avidgor Liberman. Although Fr. Battistelli will be replaced by Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa today, the Franciscan Fathers of the Custody do not surrender objections to Israel's plan.

The closure of the New Gate will irremediably affect the traffic. The reason behind this decision is the construction of a metropolitan train that should travel around Jerusalem's city walls. The railroad should be built so close to the walls that there will be no more space for the road that goes through the New Gate. This road, the main entrance to the Christian quarter of the old city, will become a simple footpath.        

The Custody of the Holy Land is strongly against the closure of the New Gate. In the letter sent to the Israeli officials, an signed by all the Council of the Custody, the Fathers say: "We have already discussed this matter with the authorities. We have met twice and we explained them the capital importance of the place where we reside. We have even suggested other solutions to the problem, but we have received no answer". The Franciscan friars proposed to modify the original plan by moving the railroad towards the center of the existing road. In this way the traffic would not be affected by the new train.   

The Franciscan monastery of Saint Saviour, which is situated near the New Gate, has been the headquarters of the Custody of the Holy Land since the 15th century. The Custody is in charge of churches, convents, monasteries, parishes, schools, hospitals, etc., in the whole Middle East. It is the residency of the Custos of the Holy Land. It is easy to understand that the closure of the New Door would have terrible repercussions for the Church in the Holy Land. In particular, it would negatively affect the Christian area in Jerusalem, by limiting the efficiency of parish activities, of the eight Christian schools, of the emergency services and of the facilities for pilgrims. Moreover, all the patriarchs and leaders of the Christian churches live within the Old City. The closure of the door would inevitably restrict their movements.      

Fr. Battistelli questions the legitimacy of Israel's new plan. "We wonder if the closure of the Door, with all the negative consequences that it entails for the Christian area, marks a new political strategy or just a prejudice against Christianity".

Catholic representatives also complain about the interruption of the dialogue between Holy See representatives and Israeli authorities about ecclesiastical properties. Israeli authorities unilaterally decided to quit the negotiations. Unfortunately, they have still to fulfil their promise of re-starting the dialogue.