Israel Issues Certificates to Christian Pilgrims

Aims to Boost Religious Tourism

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JERUSALEM, JULY 30, 2004 ( Christian pilgrims to Israel will soon be granted religious certificates by the Ministry of Tourism, as part of a new initiative to increase visitors to the Holy Land.

The certificates, which will be inaugurated by Tourism Minister Gideon Ezra, aim to give Christian visits to Jerusalem a prominence similar to that of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haaretz newspaper explained July 23.

Ezra, who was appointed tourism minister earlier this month, said that «more than 2 million people make the trip every year to Mecca,» the newspaper reported. «There’s a lot of crowding, the excitement is huge, and there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be the same thing in Jerusalem.»

As part of the program, Christian pilgrims who visit sites such as the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Nazareth and Bethlehem, will be granted a certificate acknowledging their holy pilgrimage.

«The idea is to create an appetite for future Christian pilgrims to continue visiting,» the Ezra explained.

Currently, organized groups of both Christians and Jews are granted tourism-ministry certificates appointing them «ambassadors of good will.»

The new plan, however, which will be launched in the coming months, will be designed specifically for Christian tourists.

In 2000, 2.67 million tourists arrived in Israel, half of them Christian. Last year, only 30% of the estimated 1.06 million tourists were Christian.

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