This past Wednesday, December 19, members of Saxum’s staff attended Israel’s Ministry of Tourism yearly Christmas party, in which the Minister of Tourism (Yariv Levin) invites Christian authorities and other who work in Christian tourism industry to a holiday celebration. The heads of the various Churches and denominations in Jerusalem attend, and deliver brief addresses on the state of religious tourism over the past year.
This year, representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church, Armenian Orthodox Church, the Latin Patriarchate, Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, and Anglican Church were present. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate (the Roman Catholic bishop of Jerusalem), spoke about the great potential that religious tourism has for uniting the different groups which tend to be in conflict in the Holy Land:
Tourism is a kind of free-zone. Pilgrims that come from all over the world don’t come to see just the Holy Sepulchre, or the Cotel [the Western Wall], or the Mosque [the Dome on the Rock]: they want to see everything…Because of this, in more difficult periods, there has been wonderful cooperation among all the different groups that usually, according to political correctness, don’t talk…Religious tourism is a wonderful experience that shows the enormous potential that this land has for dialogue.
All commented on the record-breaking number of tourists that Israel has seen this past year – over 4 million. While this calls for significant improvements in infrastructure, it will lead, we hope, to greater collaboration between the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the Christian authorities.
In his 2018 Christmas message published on YouTube, Archbishop Pizzaballa further commented on how, in spite of the many difficulties that Christians in the Holy Land face, it is not naive to try to live joy and hope.
Of course, I’m aware there are lots of problems everywhere, in our church and Diocese. We are living a very difficult reality everywhere, and violence and political problems and tensions. This is not new, everyone has been experiencing this for many years and generations.
And sometimes we can raise the question: why talk about joy, hope, peace when we are living in a context where there is no joy, no hope, no peace. Is it just rhetoric, just slogans? No. They are not slogans. We Christians, we have Jesus. Jesus is our joy, our hope, our strength, our peace. If we really live in Him, and He really lives in us, this is our reality. So, It is important to talk about this, because hope, joy and peace that we as Christians are already living as a personal experience.