“Pilgrims, you are invited to visit the Holy Land… as the return of pilgrims means to breathe with two lungs again.” This had earlier been the renewed invitation by Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa to the Christians worldwide to visit the Holy Land en masse in order to breathe life into the corona-wrecked economy, and to get blessed by visiting the Holy Sites and walking in the steps of Lord Jesus.
Patriarch Pizzaballa made this statement in a recent interview with Vatican radio during which he brought good news marking the start of the return of normalcy to the Holy Land and the resuscitation of the badly damaged economies in Bethlehem and Jerusalem in particular.
Press reports have indicated that the invitation made by Patriarch Pizzaballa has been answered with the city of Bethlehem, including its hotels, is preparing to receive pilgrims again for overnight stays, effective November 6, after a hiatus of about a year-and-a-half.
Several activities are scheduled to be held in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas this year in a step designed to encourage the return of normal life. People avidly await the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the first Saturday of December with Christmas markets selling local and imported products.
The restoration of pilgrimage and tourism is of prime importance as Christians in several areas, including Bethlehem, rely on pilgrimage to the holy sites as a means for eking out a living, bearing in mind that the decline in the number of tourists witnessed earlier wreaked havoc on the economies of Christians who were fretting to get both ends meet.
In a relevant remarkable statement made by Fr. Dr. Rif’at Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan who is also a member of the National Tourism Board with regards to tourism in Jordan, he said, “Visitors who come to Jordan are not mere tourists but also pilgrims since Jordan contains many sites that testify to its ancient Christian history. Consequently, the visitors who come to Jordan are not mere tourists but pilgrims who come to enjoy praying at the holy sites sanctified by Lord Jesus Christ and the prophets such as Prophet Elijah, Prophet Moses, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and the martyrs.”
It is to be recalled that on July 5-9, 2021, the Holy Land witnessed the visit of the first group of Italian pilgrims, after an absence of about a year-and-a-half following the outbreak of COVID-19. This visit by Cardinal Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Our Lady of Divine Love Sanctuary in Rome, accompanied by a delegation of priests, journalists, and tour guides, was organized by “Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi”, an organ of the Holy See which accompanies pilgrims along the paths of the Spirit around the world.
With efforts to contain the pandemic, it is of prime importance to consolidate the bond between the Mother Church of Jerusalem and the Church of Rome. It is also hoped that the momentum of the arrival of pilgrims in the Holy Land will further be accelerated and health problems that make coming here so tiring, will be contained or rather eliminated.
The news regarding the resumption of tourism in the Holy Land is quite reassuring. Hopes are high that this situation will continue indefinitely which brings renewed hopes for a better future for the people of the Holy Land.
May the Savior of the world who was born in Bethlehem, Lord Jesus Christ, help restore genuine peace in the entire Middle East region so as to serve as an impetus and a motive for Christians worldwide to visit the region and pay special visits to the Christian Holy Sites.
By: Munir Bayouk/ en.abouna.org