Custodian Tells Would-Be Pilgrims: Be Not Afraid

BETHLEHEM, West Bank, SEPT. 17, 2003 ( «Do not be afraid! Return to the Holy Land!» pleaded the Franciscan custodian of Bethlehem’s Basilica of the Nativity, in a dramatic appeal to Christian pilgrims worldwide.

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Three years after the outbreak of the intifada, the number of pilgrims visiting the land of Jesus has plummeted.

«Seventy-five percent of the Bethlehem population works in the tourism sector, and tourism is blocked,» Father Ibrahim Faltas told Vatican Radio. «You can imagine the economic situation, which is really dramatic.»

«At least 2,000 Christians have left the Bethlehem area,» he said. «Unemployment has become a plague. But what is really painful is to see how Christians are leaving. We are afraid that in the future the holy places will be no more than museums, without Christians of the area.»

He continued: «I wish to make an appeal to all Christians worldwide to return as pilgrims to the Holy Land. This is of much help: It is a great support to the people and very strong encouragement for Christians of the area. Overcome fear and return as pilgrims to the Holy Land. You must pray for us. When a brother is not well, he is visited.»

The Franciscan said that no pilgrim in modern times has been harmed in the Holy Land.

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