On July 20, Father Emil Salayta was preparing to board his flight at the Toronto International Airport for a return trip to the United States. Then a U.S. Customs official told him to step aside.
The Roman Catholic priest, a Jordanian based in Rome, represents the Catholic Church and the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. He is also cofounder of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. HCEF is a nonprofit organization that raises support from American churches to encourage Christians to stay in the Holy Land.
During a five-hour interrogation by a pacing U.S. Customs inspector, Salayta was photographed, fingerprinted, and had his luggage searched. Then he was told that he had the wrong visa and could not reenter the United States. "As a Catholic priest, I was shocked," Salayta said. "I have never been treated this way, not even in Israel."
After a flurry of phone calls and lobbying by church officials, clergy, and members of the House and Senate, Salayta was allowed back into the United States 19 days later on the same visa—with the understanding that he would curb his public speaking to comply with visa restrictions.
With the resurgence of violence, the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and the Bush administration-backed "road map" for peace in serious jeopardy, Christians in the region are facing tough new questions as they work toward their own, sometimes conflicting, definitions of peace.
Salayta said his public speaking engagements usually focus on how Christians in the Holy Land are suffering "because of the Israeli occupation."
"We're presenting the state of life of the Palestinian Christian and trying to help maintain their presence, not just by sending checks but by doing justice."
But some critics, ...1
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