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Marked increase in number of pilgrims visiting Holy Land
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.- Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem told L’Osservatore Romano this week that there has been a marked increase in the number of pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, thus allowing for the Church in Israel and peace in the Middle East to be promoted.

Father Gianfranco Pinto Ostuni, director of the Office of Pilgrimages of the Delegations from Rome to the Holy Land, told the Vatican daily that from June 2008 to January 2009, there are 27 pilgrimages scheduled.  “We have doubled the trips since 2007.  It’s enough just point out that last Easter 45,000 Italian pilgrims visited Jerusalem.”

In 2006, 58,000 Italian pilgrims visited the Holy Land and in 2007, 82,000.  According to tourism promoter Maurizio Baiocchi, “at least 100,000” are expected to visit in 2009.

The custodian of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, said he expected some one million Russian pilgrims to visit the region in 2009, thanks to eased restrictions on visas for visiting Russians.  He said large numbers of Muslim pilgrims are also expected next year as many come to visit the Omar and Al Aqsa Mosques, as well as the Holy Sepulcher, “in homage to Jesus, who they consider a prophet of Islam.”

Another Franciscan custodian of the Holy Land and professor at the “Biblicum” of Jerusalem, Father Frederic Mannes, said, “Many Christians here are in the religious tourism business. Seeing so many pilgrims from all over the world helps diminish the sense of abandonment that they often experience. Christians here, who are in contact with Jews and with globalization, tend to forget their religious identity,” he continued. “The presence of pilgrims can inspire in them as well a rediscovery of their faith.”

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