Papal meeting postponed by Israeli labor dispute

VATICAN CITY — The ripple effect of labor unrest in Israel includes the cancellation of a meeting between Israeli religious leaders and Pope Benedict XVI.

Members of the Council of Religious Community Leaders in Israel, a group that works closely with Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Israel’s Interior Ministry, were supposed to travel to Rome and meet with Pope Benedict next Thursday, Jan. 13. But Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said today the meeting has been postponed indefinitely because of the strikes in Israel.

Staffers at Israel’s foreign ministry have engaged in a work slowdown to protest low wages. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced Tuesday that he was cancelling a trip to Israel after the Israeli government said the foreign ministry staffers’ protest meant the country could not prepare Medvedev’s visit.

Rabbi David Rosen, Pope Benedict XVI and Druze Sheik Muafek Tarif in Nazareth in May 2009. (CNS/Reuters)

The Council of Religious Community Leaders in Israel includes the two chief rabbis of Israel, local leaders of a number of Christian churches, the head of the Druze community, the head of the Islamic Appeals Court, and leaders of other communities including the Bahai, Ahmadis and Samaritans.

Many of the leaders who were expected in Rome participated in a meeting with Pope Benedict in Jerusalem in May 2009 — a meeting that ended rather abruptly when one of the Muslim representatives used the occasion to publicly criticize Israel. Some of the same leaders also attended a much calmer meeting with the pope in Nazareth a few days later.

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