The Tourism Ministry launched a new pilgrimage itinerary promoting Christian tourism to Israel during a ceremony that took place on Tuesday at the Eden-Tamir Music Center in Jerusalem.

The itinerary, framed in a booklet titled “In the Footsteps of the Virgin Mary,” offers tour routes aimed at enriching the spiritual experience of Catholic pilgrims.

“The Holy Land is the homeland of the Virgin Mary, where all the important events in her life took place, and it is only natural to follow a pilgrimage itinerary in her footsteps,” said Tourism Ministry Director-General Noaz Bar Nir.

“The Christian world looks to the Holy Land as an important reference point for their faith and life,” said Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Catholic Church’s Custodian of the Holy Land.

“A pilgrimage to the Holy Land – which should be taken at least once in a lifetime – can change one’s life, as it offers the opportunity to perceive, touch, see and connect to the Bible,” said Pizzaballa.

“For us Christians, the Holy Land is the physical connection with the life of Jesus. But we cannot talk about the life of Jesus without talking about his mother, the Holy Virgin.”

According to a ministry spokeswoman, the new itinerary enhances existing tours and activities that take pilgrims in the footsteps of Jesus.

“The itinerary includes visits to the places where the Virgin Mary lived and traveled with Jesus, including, among others, her birthplace, Zippori, in the Galilee; Nazareth, where pilgrims can visit Mary’s Well, from which Mary drank and provided water for the Holy Family; Elijah’s Cave, which Christian tradition identifies as the place where the Holy Family rested on its way back from Egypt; and Abu Ghosh, with the Church of Notre Dame de l’Arche de l’Alliance,” she said.

The itinerary was published as part of the ministry’s efforts to promote Christian tourism to Israel. The booklet is being distributed to wholesalers and operators specializing in pilgrimages from around the world.

Lina Haddad, director of marketing for religious tourism, said the itinerary, currently available in English, will be translated into Portuguese, Polish, Spanish, French and Italian.

Catholic pilgrimages account for the largest segment of incoming Christian tourism. In 2010, 3.45 million tourists visited Israel, of which 69 percent were Christian, with more than half belonging to the Catholic faith.

AP contributed to this report.

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