The Catholic Episcopal commission of Pilgrimage in Jerusalemhas released a statementinviting prospective pilgrims to visit the Holy Land and reassuring them thatit is safe to do so.
The statement, issued on September 10, underscores thesafety of the country and the spiritual benefits received by the faithful duringsuch a pilgrimage. The statement insists that “the pilgrimage itinerary betweenNazareth, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Bethlehem was always and is still very safe.”Otherwise, the statement continues, “the local providers would be the first towarn of serious danger and hurry to cancel their coming were such an actionwarranted.”
The statement follows on a downswing in visits to the HolyLand brought about by the recent militaryconflict in the Gaza Strip and Israel. “Over theselast few weeks violence has re-visited the Holy Land,” the text acknowledges. “Duringthose weeks of suffering, some groups cancelled their trip but many otherscontinued to come. They went home very blessed and left a legacy of blessing inour Christian community.”
Recent remarks by Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzahi Hanegbi, hardly call for such a sanguine view. He warned yesterday that Hamas was likely to resume violence if it feels it has made no political gains from upcoming talks in Cairo.
The declaration, signed by both the President of theEpiscopal commission, Bishop William Shomali, and the Secretary, Rev. PietroFelet, does its best to be persuasive. “Christian pilgrims are highly respected,”the text contends, “and warmly welcomed by Christians, Moslems and Jews alikebecause they are considered, in this troubled area of the world, as bridges ofpeace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
The declaration argues that visits to the holy places are rewardingand fruitful, and often result in “growth in personal faith, the rediscovery ofthe Bible in its own land and a deep spiritual transformation.”
The statement ends with a request that Bishops’ conferences aroundthe world encourage dioceses, parishes, and associations to extend this messageof encouragement to pilgrims.
Coincidentally,a delegation of 18 U.S. Catholic bishops embarked on a 9-day “pilgrimageof peace” to the Holy Land on September 10. The bishops will be pray andvisiting various holy sites in Jerusalem, Galilee, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. Thepilgrimage is being led by Des Moines, Iowa Bishop Richard Pates, chairman ofthe U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The bishops willbe following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who prayed for peace during hispilgrimage to the Holy Land in May.