For more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the Holy Land’s tourism industry and with it, a vital source of income for thousands of Christians who suddenly found themselves out of work. With virtually no pilgrims for the first time in 1,600 years, economic losses are estimated to be about $320 million, which is the equivalent of all the wages for that sector.
Just before the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, 40 donors from Dallas’ The Catholic Foundation and three priests participated in a memorable Lenten season pilgrimage with the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. “The timing of our pilgrimage was blessed as we were able to deepen bonds of friendship and celebrate life changing moments together,” said Matt Kramer, President and CEO of The Catholic Foundation, noting that all the pilgrims remained healthy during the trip and upon their return.
Father Peter, who has been the Acting Chaplain for the Marine Security Guard at the US Embassy in Jerusalem was fortunate to be able to take a group of US Marines on several short pilgrimages during the pandemic. They visited St. Peter’s Church in Capernaum, the Church of Tabgha, where Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection in Galilee, and the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
Despite one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, air travel to and from Israel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping away the foreign pilgrims who usually throng Jerusalem during Holy Week. In past years, tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city's holy sites.
On Good Friday this year, some glimmer of hope of reopening appeared in Jerusalem's Old City, as Franciscan friars led hundreds of worshippers down the Via Dolorosa. As they solemnly retraced Jesus’ final steps, the group paused to recite prayers at the Stations of the Cross.
Religious sites throughout the Holy Land during Easter celebrations were open to only limited numbers of worshippers. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, was open to a small group of visitors wearing masks and social distancing.
Since Easter, with nearly the entire population now vaccinated, Israel’s Tourism Ministry has announced plans to re-open Israel and invite pilgrims again beginning on July 1. All visitors will be required to be fully vaccinated with a negative COVID test before boarding their flight.
“Israel is now fully open, the attractions, the restaurants, the hotels. Our numbers of COVID-19 are getting fewer and fewer every day. We’re waiting for you to come,” said Israel’s Tourism Minister, Orit Farkash-Hacohen.
Opening the country to tourism again is expected to help many Christians who have suffered economically over the past year. We covet your prayers and support in this extremely challenging time and encourage you to consider joining us on our pilgrimages in 2022. View Father Peter’s video: A Day in Jerusalem on our YouTube channel.