"Christian leaders in the Holy Land are especially concerned about the security wall, which they have called 'a grave obstacle' to peace," Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Mr. Bush, who met Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"In my visit in January, I saw first-hand the devastating effect of the wall, which is dividing families, land and neighborhoods," Bishop Gregory continued. "[T]he ability of religious institutions to function normally throughout the Holy Land is severely impeded," he added.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, wrote to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in March complaining about the wall.
The Rev. Donald Rooney and the Rev. John J. Podsiadlo, representing the Holy Land Christian Society, also wrote to Mr. Bush on April 8, detailing some specific problems with the wall. Among the problems cited were:
?Religious groups such as the Franciscan Friars, Greek Orthodox monks and Daughters of Charity have had land confiscated, without compensation, for the wall's construction.
?Students are unable to reach historic Catholic schools in Jerusalem.
?The wall will cross the Mount of Olives, enclosing the last passage from Bethany to the Mount of Olives and impeding the Palm Sunday procession from Bethpage to Jerusalem, which commemorates Jesus' entry into the city.
?Much-needed social workers and caregivers in Christian institutions are unable to reach their jobs because of the wall.
?Portions of land for an orphanage and part of an indigent senior facility, both run by the Daughters of Charity, will be included in the military zone on both sides of the wall.
Father Rooney said if construction continues, "the Holy Land as we have known it since the beginning will be changed forever."
The wall, less than half of which is completed, will run 650 kilometers, mostly through Palestinian land inside the West Bank, Amnesty International said in a February report.
During his meeting with Mr. Sharon on Wednesday, Mr. Bush, who once called the wall a problem, softened his stance. "I am strongly committed to the security of Israel," he said. "The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of that security effort should, as your government has stated, be a security rather than a political barrier."
In his letter, however, Bishop Gregory warned that when it comes to the Holy Land, "a just and lasting peace will not be possible if the United States acquiesces in unilateral initiatives that undermine these legitimate goals," such as the wall.
Mr. Bush on Wednesday also endorsed Israel's claim to a disputed portion of the West Bank and said Palestinian refugees must settle outside Israel.
"It's disappointing that there is this apparent change in U.S. policy regarding the wall, the settlements and the right of return of refugees," said Gerard Powers, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. conference.
Other Christian groups, such as the National Council of Churches USA, which includes Protestant and Orthodox churches, also have declared opposition to the wall.
Mr. Hyde said that although he is "a staunch supporter of Israel," the wall is causing problems and the Bush administration should work with Israel to change its route.