Report of Pilgrimages to the Holy Land for 2015

(  In 2015, more than 275,000 Catholics from 96 countries have visited the holiest sites in Christianity, the shrines of the Holy Land. The groups were more than 8,254. The numbers disclosed in a report by the Franciscan Custody included, however, only the pilgrims who booked the sanctuaries services on line. This means that the actual number was even larger.

Fr. AGUSTÍN PELAYO FREGOSO, ofm – Director – Christian Information Center – “We work with more than 200 agencies that belong to Jews, Muslims and Christians. When they contact us, these agencies already know that the groups need different times of celebration in the sanctuaries: a time for prayer, or an hour dedicated to the Holy Mass in the different sanctuaries that are administered by the Friars Minor, the Franciscans “.

The most-visited shrines by pilgrims seeking the celebrations are the Holy Sepulchre, Bethlehem and Gethsemane, including the Basilica of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto and the Shepherds’ Field.

In the past, the majority of pilgrims were Christians from North America and Europe; today no more than half of the pilgrims are from North America and Europe. On the other hand, Asia and Latin America are increasingly present, and the number of Chinese increased by 100%. The report also notes that the number of groups began to be significantly reduced by the war in 2014.

Fr. AGUSTÍN PELAYO FREGOSO, ofm – Director – Christian Information Center:
“After the Gaza war, the groups actually decreased, the numbers are very low, but there is a new phenomenon, which is an increase of pilgrimages from countries that were not listed in the leading records”.

In recent months, the news of the conflict between Arabs and Israelis have also scared pilgrims in fear of violence. However, the director of the Christian Information Center explains that the pilgrimages ways were not affected by these isolated situations and that the sanctuaries are safe.

Fr. AGUSTÍN PELAYO FREGOSO, ofm – Director – Christian Information Center:
“The pilgrims are accompanied everywhere by local people who will guide them: they will not take them to a dangerous place.”

The Franciscan Custody began projects to better accommodate pilgrims and to provide them with an experience of faith in the holy places. One of these projects will be a museum that tells the history of Christianity in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Fr. PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA, ofm – Custos of the Holy Land:
“There is the Israel Museum, there is the Museum of Islamic culture, but we do not have a museum of the Christians. It is important to talk about it, but in a scientific and professional way: the museum of the Holy Land addresses this need. The Franciscans are the right instruments for this task.  This is a great project, however, it is just in its early stage: I hope it can continue.”

The presence of pilgrims in the Holy Land is very important to keep the spirituality of the holy places alive, as well to encourage local Christians, who are the minority here.

Fr. AGUSTÍN PELAYO FREGOSO, ofm – Director – Christian Information Center:
“It is important to see local Christians who, with their presence here, have the courage to say: ‘we are here, we want to show you our faith, you should stay here because you are important to us.’
On the other hand, if there were not pilgrims and local Christians, our sanctuaries could be compared to museums or abandoned works of art.”