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Holy Land Franciscans hope for Bethlehem Christmas pilgrim rush

The Franciscan custodians of Catholic shrines in the Holy Land are seeking a "peaceful invasion" of pilgrims, specifically visitors to Bethlehem for Christmas.

The Fides news service reports an increase in the number of Christians planning trips to Bethlehem this year. It says Christians "living in the places where Jesus walked hope for a massive comforting presence of pilgrims this Christmas".

Holy Land Franciscan Fr Ibrahim Faltas, together with Bethlehem mayor Hanna J. Nasser, has assured potential Christian pilgrims that there is no need to be afraid.

"Invade the Holy Land for a few days at Christmas and let yourselves by won over by its cultural and human message," they told Fides. "In this way you will offer a concrete and constructive contribution towards peace worth much more than a thousand words."

The Israeli business website Globes is reporting that the Italian Bishops Conference has urged bishops to encourage the faithful to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Globes cites figures to back its claim of an upsurge in Catholic tourism to Israel. During the period of January to October 2003, 19,445 visitors arrived from Italy, an increase of 48% over the same period last year. During the same period, 12,812 visitors came from Spain, which was 92% more than in the same period in 2002, and 29,271 tourists from Central and South America up 29% over the same period last year.

It says 7000 members of the Neo-Catechumenal movement - described as "sympathetic to Israel" - are expected to visit by the end of 2003.

Pictured: Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Visit Bethlehem for Christmas, Franciscans in Holy Land urge (Catholic World News 2/12/03)
Ministry of Tourism: Renewed Catholic tourism to Israel (Globes 2/12/03)

Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land | Basilica of the Nativity
Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land
Israel Ministry of Tourism
Holy Land Franciscan appeals for return of pilgrims (CathNews 19/9/03)

3 Dec 2003