VATICAN CITY, MAY 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II encouraged “pilgrimages of peace” to the Holy Land to express solidarity to the local Christian community.
In the address today to the general assembly of the Italian bishops’ conference, the Pope applauded the initiative adopted last year by Italian dioceses to promote “pilgrimages of peace to the Holy Land.”
“Many of you have visited personally those places, taking numerous pilgrims with you. It is also a strong sign of closeness and solidarity for the Christian communities that live there and that are in great need of your help,” the Holy Father said.
This year, Italian pilgrims have been going in greater numbers to the Holy Land thanks to the organization of the Roman Society for Pilgrimages, an institution under the Rome Diocese, as well as of other dioceses and religious congregations.
Over the past 11 months, an additional 2,000 Arab Christians have left the Holy Land, including 1,000 from Bethlehem, according to information received by the Rome Diocese.
Twenty years ago, Arab Christians in the Occupied Territories numbered close to 100,000. Today they number some 60,000, despite the growth of the overall Arab population.
Pilgrimages are a key source of income for some Christians in the Holy Land, which has been in turmoil since the outbreak of the second intifada.
Among the initiatives of the Roman Society for Pilgrimages, 15 Italian athletes, together with 15 Israelis and 15 Palestinians, took part in the peace marathon April 23 between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, carrying a torch blessed by the Pope.
In a theological-pastoral congress held in February by the Roman Society for Pilgrimages, the administrator delegate of this institution, Monsignor Liberio Andreatta, called for a “Marshall Plan” of pilgrimages to rescue the economy of the Holy Land.