ROME, JULY 26, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In the first six months of 2010, some 1.6 million tourists have visited the Holy Land, a marked increase compared to 2009, and one that Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa attributes to a variety of factors.
The number of tourists is up some 39% from last year, and the Custos of the Holy Land told Vatican Radio that this can be attributed first to “a great activity on the part of episcopal conferences, dioceses and parish priests.”
The pilgrims come primarily from the United States, Russia, France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy.
Father Pizzaballa noted intense promotion campaigns from many priests and religious, as well as tour companies creating affordable packages.
“All these factors together have reawakened interest in the Holy Land. Not only on the part of Europe but also — and this is a novelty — of Asia,” said the priest.
The Holy Land custos welcomed the many benefits that pilgrims bring to the Holy Land, including “much serenity to the families that in recent years have suffered from the lack of pilgrims.”
He said it has brought an economic rebirth to the region: “There are new hotels under construction. Everything is moving.”
Relative calm in the area is also brining more tourists to the holy sites, the priest noted.
“There is no violence in the Palestinian territories,” he said. “Perhaps there is some talk of Gaza, but it is very far away, it is outside the ambit of pilgrims.”
Hence, in the region of the Holy Land, Father Pizzaballa observed, “there is not much perception of the tension that continues, especially at the level of lack of communication between the sides, and less so in the territories where the situation is not so problematic as it was some years ago.”
The priest also pointed out the impact of the media on the situation in the last few months. “There is less talk of the Holy Land in reference to negative news,” he suggested.
Following a papal lead
Father Pizzaballa further noted that Benedict XVI’s May 2009 pilgrimage to the Holy Land brought a “positive vision” of the region.
In the Holy Father’s addresses, the priest recalled, he made an “indirect call to all the Churches of the world to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.”
The Custos affirmed that peace in the territory is not only about “agreements among the great” but also and above all about “the realities of life in the territory.”
“When people work,” Father Pizzaballa reflected, “when families live in a condition of serenity, that atmosphere is created, that humus, that base which is also necessary to create later a mentality and culture of peace for the future.”