Pope Francis has cancelled his scheduled visit to Israel because of an ongoing labor dispute at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
As the Times of Israel reports, the pontiff was scheduled to travel to Israel for a stay from May 24th to 26th. His trip was cancelled due to the fact that Foreign Ministry workers are currently on strike and the ministry cannot make the necessary arrangements for the high-profile visit.
A source at the ministry told the Times that the cancellation will probably lead to “large, measurable economic damage with all the lost tourist revenue that would have accompanied the visit.”
In January, the National Catholic Register reported that Pope Francis’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land would focus on his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox archbishop of Constantinople, and their work together in the area of ecumenism.
Francis announced on January 5th that his “principal goal” in making the trip is “to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras I, that occurred… 50 years ago today.”
That meeting began the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches and ultimately led to a joint declaration in 1965 in which the two spiritual leaders said they hoped “to overcome their differences in order to be again ‘one,’ as the Lord Jesus asked of his Father for them.”
The plan was for Pope Francis and the Patriarch to celebrate an ecumenical encounter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s burial in Jerusalem, which is held sacred by Eastern orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic Christians.
The pontiff had also hoped to travel to Bethlehem, in Palestine, and to Amman, in Jordan.
The visit would have been Pope Francis’s second to Israel. In 1973, then-Jorge Mario Bergoglio arrived in Israel just as the Yom Kippur War broke out and was confined to his Jerusalem hotel for six days due to the conflict. There, he studied the Letters of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Immediately after being elected the new pope last March, Francis was invited to Israel by President Shimon Peres, who asked the pope to visit as a spiritual, and not a political, leader.
“The sooner you visit, the better; in these days, a new opportunity is being created for peace, and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace,” Peres told Pope Francis.
The Times reported that, on Wednesday, it was announced that, due to the labor dispute, British Prime Minister David Cameron was also forced to cancel his trip to Israel on March 12th, when he was due to address the Knesset.
“I just don’t see how it’ll be possible to go ahead with the visit without the cooperation of the Foreign Ministry,” said the ministry’s spokesman Yigal Palmor.
The strike of the Israeli diplomats could also affect Peres’s planned visit to China in April. Israel’s embassy in China indicated that it was putting a stop to plans for Peres’s visit to Beijing and other diplomatic endeavors due to labor sanctions by workers who are demanding higher pay from the Finance Ministry.
The Workers Union published a list of over two dozen measures that became effective as of Tuesday, among them that Foreign Ministry officials will no longer participate in organizing visits of foreign presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, and other officials.
Similarly, the diplomats now will refuse to assist Israeli officials currently abroad or planning trips overseas. Diplomatic passports will not be issued and “no assistance whatsoever” will be afforded Israeli officials overseas.
In addition, consular services to Israeli citizens are suspended, except in situations in which lives are in danger or bodies must be returned to Israel for burial.
Contact between diplomats and the United Nations and other international organizations such as UNIFIL and UNDOF is suspended as well.