.- Israeli Minister of Tourism, Isaac Herzog, and Papal Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, have reportedly agreed on a visit to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict XVI early in 2007.
Israeli business journal, Globes, reported that the visit was arranged during a recent meeting of the two. Herzog also proposed to Franco that Israel host the World Conference of Bishops, which is traditionally held in Rome and is attended by thousands of the world’s Catholic Bishops.
Herzog reportedly believes that such an event would be significant and improve relations with Israel’s Christian community
Globes reports that the Ministry of Tourism is excited by the prospect of the Pope’s visit, which they call a significant political and economic visit, since Benedict will have a large entourage of pilgrims. The visit will also encourage pilgrimages to Israel later in the year.
When Pope John Paul II made his pilgrimage to Israel in 2000, pilgrims used 420,000 room-nights in hotels, and generated $60 million in tourist revenue, Globes reported.
Franco reportedly asked Herzog to promote an administrative-economic agreement between Israel and the Vatican, and to facilitate the handling of members of the priesthood in Israel and formalizing their status, including visas and movement in the territories. He also asked Herzog to facilitate regular movement of pilgrims to Bethlehem.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, 800,000 Christian pilgrims visited Israel in 2005, half of whom were Catholics, and the rest Protestants and Evangelists. Christian pilgrims accounted for 40% of all tourists. 400,000 Christian pilgrims visited Israel in 2004, half of whom were Catholics.