Christian Heads Urge Pilgrims’ Visit

In an unprecedented move, the leaders of the heterogeneous Christian Communities in Israel on Monday signed a joint proclamation urging Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land.

The declaration, entitled “A Call to All People of Faith: Visit the Holy Land Now” which was initiated by the Ministry of Tourism, was signed by senior representatives of the Greek, Russian and Armenian Orthodox Churches, the Vatican’s chief representative to the Holy Land, as well as by the Evangelical International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

The unusual mix of the diverse, and often feuding, branches of Christianity coming together for one common goal—increased pilgrimages to the Holy Land—was not lost on the crowd.

“There are many things that divide us and many things that unite us. For all of us this is the Holy Land,” Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land, said at the Jerusalem signing ceremony.

“A visit to the Holy Land is one of the most important and significant things Christians can do at this time,” said Reverend Malcolm Hedding, the Executive Director of the staunchly pro-Israel International Christian Embassy inJerusalem.

The declaration comes following four years of violence which has led to a dramatic drop in the number of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, as well as to an ever decreasing number of Christians living in the Holy Land.

Calling a pilgrimage to the Holy Land “a unique enrichment and spiritual joy,” the Papal Nuncio to Israel, Monsignor Pietro Sambi, said that pilgrims offer both spiritual and material, encouragement to the small Christian communities in the Holy Land, and that such visits create an atmosphere of peace which could contribute to defusing the ever-tense political situation between Israelis and Palestinians.

While the number of tourists visiting Israel is at its highest since the outbreak of violence four years ago, the percentage of Christian pilgrims visiting Israel remains comparatively low. Sixty percent of the record breaking 2.67 million tourists that visited Israel in 2000 were Christians, while only 29 percent of the projected 1.5 million tourists who will have visited Israel this year are Christian, Tourism Minister Gideon Ezra told the crowd of Christian leaders.

“Because of the Israel Defense Forces, the security fence and God it’s safe here” he concluded.

By: Etgar Lefkovits, Jerusalem Post

Reprinted with permission from the Associated Christian Press

November 15, 2004