Holy Land Families Feeling Absence of Pilgrims

Monsignor Contends Violence Is No Threat to Visitors

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ROME, DEC. 14, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Holy Land crisis that has kept away pilgrims and tourists has plunged thousands of workers and their families into ruin.

As a result, organizations responsible for pilgrimages have appealed for a renewal of trips to the holy places.

«Poverty generates violence,» Monsignor Liberio Andreatta told the press. «It is despair that transforms fathers of families into kamikazes. For this reason also, we should renew pilgrimages to the Holy Land.»

Monsignor Andreatta is the administrator delegate of the Roman Work of Pilgrimages, an institution of the Diocese of Rome.

The Roman Work made 20,000 reservations for pilgrims wishing to visit the Holy Land between October and December 2000. All were canceled after the outbreak of the intifada. In 2001 the pilgrims sent by the Roman Work were only 2% of last year´s numbers.

Brevivet, one of the most important pilgrimage agencies in Italy, sent 40,000 pilgrims to the Holy Land between January and October of 2000. This year it sent only 500.

«The drastic reduction in the flow has left thousands of families and entire communities on the street,» Monsignor Andreatta explained. «Those who worked in hotels, restaurants, in transport and craftsmanship are going through an extreme situation. They need us.»

The «painful events in news reports in no way affect the itineraries of pilgrims,» he continued. «In 30 years, not a hair of theirs has been touched. Palestinians and Israelis respect them, because they are signs of peace and faith. Moreover, for many they represent the main source of subsistence.»

«The problem is not one of security but psychological,» the monsignor added. «We watch television, read the newspapers, and many think they would end up on a battlefield. It is not like that.»

In fact, he insisted, the only place where the situation continues to be precarious is Bethlehem, which cannot be visited every day.

Yet the situation is complicated. The Roman Work, along with Unitalsi, the Italian association that organizes pilgrimages for the sick to Lourdes, had organized for today a trip for 240 pilgrims, including 50 patients. The pilgrimage has been postponed for technical reasons, not for security.

«The initiative has only been delayed,» Unitalsi´s vice president, Salvatore Pagliuca, said. «We want to make it at the beginning of 2002.»

«We have received 240 requests, more than anticipated, and we have had difficulties counting on the necessary planes and housing, in a reality in which many places for accommodation have been forced to close down,» Pagliuca added.

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