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Australian pilgrims returning to the skies

Two Australian pilgrimage operators say travellers are taking to the skies again following the 11 September terrorist attacks and despite continuing conflict in the Holy Land.

However, pilgrims are choosing tours to alternative destinations, away from recent trouble spots.

For instance, Sydney-based Harvest Pilgrimages is promoting Italian shrines, as well Fatima in Portugal, general manager, Philip Ryall told the Catholic Weekly.

"The situation has allowed us to implement pilgrimage ideas we had filed away," he said.

The company expects 2002 to be a big year for pilgrimages, including World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada, which is shaping up as a major tourist event. In the US alone, 23,000 young people have already signed up for WYD 2002.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs has advised would-be pilgrims to avoid or defer West Bank destinations and asked pilgrimage operators to look elsewhere in the Holy Land for destinations for the moment.

The current shortage of pilgrims to the Holy Land has had a devastating economic effect, with many workers and their families who were reliant on the pilgrim trade being financially ruined.

Catholic Weekly