"Pilgrims' odyssey due to end tomorrow "

by Michael Jansen, in Nicosia ("The Irish Times", October 13, 1999)

The unusual odyssey of 25 members of the Pilgrim House Community will end at 7 a.m. tomorrow at the Greek port of Piraeus, from where they sailed on October 7th. Israel denied entry to the group when it arrived at Haifa on board the Cypriot-registered ferry, Nissos Kypros, on Sunday.
Community members were forced to return to the ship and were detained on board under police protection until the craft set sail on Monday.
The group, consisting of 18 Irish citizens, three Romanians and one Colombian, aged between 15 and 62, was also not permitted to disembark yesterday in the Cypriot port of Limassol. The government spokesman, Mr Mich alis Papapetrou, said its members "refused to co-operate with the authorities absolutely . . . They refused to answer standard questions [put by the immigration officers] permitting them to enter the country . . . They refused to answer even a single question," he stated, "and they refused all offers of help."
Mr Glafkos Xenos, the Cyprus police spokesman, said community members refused to say whether they wanted to "enter the country as tourists or as applicants for work permits". They would not reveal whether they had funds to support a sojourn on the island.
The Cypriot authorities seemed puzzled by what it saw as the uncompromisingly unco-operative attitude of the group, although one informed source, speaking anonymously, said the Israeli police had used physical violence against community members, explaining the group's reluctance to co-operate with law enforcement officers since setting sail from Haifa.
A member of the Pilgrim House Community has reacted angrily to her community being described as a "fringe Catholic group" in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times.
Ms Bridget Ann Ryan, who is travelling with the group, said the description attributed to a spokesman for the Archbishop of Dublin was highly inflammatory and very serious language to be used in the current climate.
"That gives licence to others who are using words like cult which are not appropriate to us," said the former editor of the Irish Catholic.
The communications director of the Dublin archdiocese, Father John Dardis, yesterday issued a statement expressing concern for members of the Pilgrim House community. "We are aware of the work that the Pilgrim House community is involved in, and of the concerns that its members show, out of a Christian conviction, for people with disabilities," he said.


"Deported Irish `cult' pilgrims refused entry by Cypriots"

by Martha Kearns and Isabel Hurley ("Irish Independent", October 13, 1999)

THE Co Wexford pilgrimage group who were deported from Israel have been refused entry to Cyprus. Last night they were still looking for a port to drop anchor.
The 19 Irish citizens, along with six Romanians and a Colombian, were ordered out of Israel on Monday night after being branded as members of an extreme Christian group.
The Pilgrim House Foundation group from Castletown, Inch, Co Wexford, who were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, were put on the cruise ship Nisos Kypro to Greece via Cyprus but were not allowed to disembark with the other passengers when the ship docked at Limassol yesterday.
The group, which includes children and mentally handicapped adults, was due to arrive in Rhodes, Greece, at 7am this morning. Their final stop will be at Piraeus, Greece tomorrow morning.
The Irish Ambassador to Israel, Brendan Scannell, yesterday asked the Israeli authorities to reconsider their decision.
``It's a big foul-up. They didn't have their travel documents in order but there are lots of grey areas. It's up to the Israeli authorities whether they will allow them back or not,'' he said from Tel Aviv.


EU visitors to Israel need a visa if they intend to stay for more than 90 days. The group were refused visas shortly before their trip but decided to travel anyway and stay for a shorter time.
Speaking from the boat yesterday, Brother Nicholas Leahy, who has lived with the community for 4 years, accused the Israeli police of brutality.
He claimed they had been jostled onto buses by policemen, one woman had her finger caught in a door, another man had been dragged by his hair and tie. Three women had been punched in the back, three men had been punched in the ribs.


He added that they still hoped to get to the Holy Land and were not giving up.
Dr Dermot O'Leary, one of the group's leaders, said they were kept locked in a room on the ship until it left Haifa harbour. ``It was all an extraordinary level of over-reaction. They refused to give us any explanation. at any time. We are members of a well-known Christian `cult' called the Roman Catholic Church which is very common in Ireland. We are Irish Catholics,'' he said.
The Israelis say they feared the group were extremists who planned to commit suicide with the advent of the millennium.
Yesterday, Cyprus police spokesperson, Glafcos Xenos, said they were members of a cult and were barred from Cyprus because ``they refused to reply to questions posed to them by immigration officials''.


"Church pleads for full access"

by Phil Reeves, in Jerusalem ("Irish Independent", October 13, 1999)

THE Catholic Church is appealing to Israel to allow its pilgrims full access to religious sites over the next few months amid growing signs that the Holy Land faces a tense and perilous start to the millennium.
Pre-millennium tension has been rising fast in the region, but it burst into the open when Israeli security services barred an Irish group from the entering the country, rough-handling them back on to their ferry at Haifa.
The incident bodes ill for the millions of Christian pilgrims who are expected to descend on Israel and the West Bank over the next few months, partly for the millennium but also because of a possible visit by the Pope. Some of their most sacred sites are in Arab areas, such as east Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where Israeli security forces are at their most active.
The case underscored fears that conflicts could arise caused by misunderstanding, over-zealousness, or even outright prejudice in a region which has been an arena for religious conflict for centuries. ``It will happen again,'' said one diplomatic source.


So suspicious were the Israeli authorities of the Irish arrivals that they dispatched more than 40 police to herd them and, according to some of the group, beat them back onto their vessel. The bomb squad was also sent in, and a police launch escorted them out of Israeli waters, to ensure none tried to hurl themselves overboard and swim ashore.
The Haifa incident coincided with a statement from the Catholic Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem asking the Israeli authorities for ``total and free access to all the Holy Places for visitors and pilgrims''.
But the evidence suggests that a turbulent period lies ahead. Even before the wave of visitors arrives, there have been violent clashes and protests in Nazareth because of a dispute between Christians and Moslems. The former are outraged by plans for a mosque close to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary with news of her pregnancy. The latter are angered by proposals for a plaza, for visiting pilgrims.
The Irish group's problems arose after a special Israeli police unit decided that they were ``Christian extremists,'' who could be planning to mark the dawn of the new millennium with mass suicide or violence.


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Wed, Oct 13, 1999