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(photo credit: AP [file])
The Tourism Ministry has launched a program to bring Christian "youth pilgrimages" to Israel. The plan was discussed in a meeting between Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Padre Chasara Atoura, head of tourism for the Vatican, last Thursday, the ministry said.
"There is a very large movement of Christian tourists to Israel, and we are working to bring more tourists," Aharonovitch told The Jerusalem Post. "The numbers are going to grow, and I had a very important meeting in Italy. If everything goes right, we expect to have a lot more tourists in Israel from Italy [in particular], and Europe at large."
Various projects will include youth trips to Israel's holy sites and vacation spots.
Large travel companies are said to be marketing exciting pilgrimage packages geared towards a younger audience focusing on the holy sites of Israel, but also including visits to the Dead Sea, Eilat, and Tel Aviv. Another project includes 1,000 trips sponsored by Telecom (the Italian equivalent of Bezeq) and the postal company of Italy.
Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holyland Boutros Nabil El-Sayah is smitten with the idea. He told the Post: "We like young people to come to the Holy Land. It is where their roots are as far as the faith is concerned." However, he said that the Vatican has not yet told him of any future plans.
Aharonovitch suggested that the project, which will be kicked off by Pope Benedict XVI, should be in honor of previous Pope John Paul II.
One of the attractions, in its fifth year, is the "Jerusalem-Bethlehem Marathon," otherwise known as the "Pope John Paul II Peace Run," which will take place in April of 2008.
The 10-kilometer race is supported by Israel's Ministry of Tourism, the Olympic committee of Italy, the City of Jerusalem, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Italy, and Opera Romana, the tourism agency of the Vatican.