Video in this story is provided by itraveljerusalem
Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov inaugurated on Tuesday the new Gospel Trail
pilgrimage route which has been created by the Ministry of Tourism along with
the Jewish National Fund.
The trail, which cost NIS 3 million to develop
over three years, is designed to further increase the already large numbers of
Christian tourists and pilgrims who visit Israel each year.
will now embark on a marketing campaign to promote the new pilgrimage
“We are creating a revolution in tourism to Israel,” Miszensikov
said at the foot of Mount Arbel by the Kinneret. “In recent years we looked at
which target audience we could work with, and we decided that first and foremost
is the Christian world. So it is a real honor to invite the entire Christian
world to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to walk in the same places where
According to the Ministry of Tourism, 2010 was a record year
for tourism, with nearly three-and-ahalf million visitors arriving in the
country. Of those, approximately 66 percent were Christians, and of the total
number of tourists, 30%, or approximately 1 million, came explicitly for the
purposes of a pilgrimage or spiritual journey.
Miszensikov said that he
expects the Gospel Trail to attract an additional 200,000 tourists every year
above the current figures.
The route of the Gospel Trail follows the path
which Jesus walked at age 30 after he was evicted from Nazareth, as related by
the New Testament.
The trail, which runs for 63 kilometers, starts at
Mount Precipice just outside Nazareth and continues eastwards down to Capernaum,
taking in a number of important Christian holy sites.
These include the
Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount; Magdala (Migdal
today) the home of Mary Magadelene; Tabgha, the site of the Feeding of the Five
Thousand; and Capernaum, where Jesus established his ministry and met his first
Those traveling the trail will be able to do so by car,
bicycle and, more traditionally, on foot – despite the current lack of amenities
and accommodation along the route. The ministry says it is working on a program
to encourage entrepreneurs to develop tourist facilities to provide services for
those walking the trail.
Father Juan Maria Solana – the head of the
Catholic Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem and director of the Magdala center,
which cooperated with the Ministry of Tourism in creating the trail – explained
to the assembled crowd the importance of the new trail.
“I spent some
time in Spain and walked the Santiago trail there,” he said. “So when I came to
the Holy Land, I asked myself ‘how is it possible that there is not a walking
path to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ?’ so I am extremely happy now that
the Gospel Trail has been completed, which will enable many Christians around
the world to follow in his footsteps.”
Solana also refuted any suggestion
that the new initiative was in any way exploitative of Christian
“The Tourism Ministry wants to promote tourism, for sure, but
there is also a sincere and genuine desire to develop the region for Christian
pilgrims so they can experience the religious history and culture here, so
everyone can benefit,” said Solana. “And it’s very important for Christians to
come here. It’s like the transition from a black-and-white TV to a plasma
screen. To really understand the scriptures, you have to come here and see the
places mentioned in the Bible, and experience the land in which Jesus
Misensikov echoed this sentiment: “Israel invests a lot of money
in renovating and safe-guarding the holy places of all religions here. Is it
problematic to also use the culture and history of the area to promote
pilgrimage and tourism for the benefit of all nations? I don’t think
The Tourism Ministry wants to increase the total number of visitors
to the country to 5 million people by 2014, therefore the Christian world is, in
Miszensikov’s words, one the ministry’s “main target audiences” to achieve this
Among some of the countries with big potential for increased
Christian tourism are Indonesia and India. According to ministry statistics, in
2010 more than 20,000 Christian tourists from Indonesia came to Israel – which
has a total Christian population of approximately 23 million – despite the fact
that the two countries do not enjoy formal diplomatic relations.
were also 40,000 tourists from India, 75% percent of whom were Christians, and
the ministry sees the subcontinent as another potential tourism market, with its
community of approximately 24 million Christians.