Pilgrims, Israelis, Palestinians join John Paul II '10 games

Seventh annual John Paul II games begin Sunday in Bethlehem and Jerusalem in honor of the former pope.

Pope John Paul II 248 ap (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Pope John Paul II 248 ap
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sunday marks the beginning of the seventh annual John Paul II games, a sporting event that takes place every year in Bethlehem and Jerusalem in honor of the former pope.
Some 1,000 Catholic pilgrims will arrive in Israel at the end of this week to take part in various sporting activities, including a 10-kilometer run from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, a swimming competition in the Kinneret and a cycling event to inaugurate the Gospel Trail.
The events will open on Sunday with the Bethlehem-Jerusalem Run, in which some 500 Italians, Palestinians and Israelis are planned to participate. The runners will start off at the Church of the Nativity Plaza in Bethlehem and continue to the Rachel Crossing, where the game’s opening ceremony will take place, and then run to the Davidson Center in Jerusalem.
This year is the first time that Israeli runners have been allowed to participate in the section of the run that takes place in Bethlehem. Since the start of the second intifada, Israeli citizens have been forbidden to enter territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
According to the Tourism Ministry, the IDF and the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria authorized the entrance of Israelis this year because of improved security conditions.
Sources in the Civil Administration said all the Palestinian runners participating in the event had been cleared to pass through the Rachel Crossing without delay or inspection, and that it was working in cooperation with the PA security mechanisms to ensure smooth passage for all the runners.
During the opening ceremony, both the official representatives and participants will sign a joint proclamation calling for peace and brotherhood in the Holy Land.
After the ceremony, a symbolic volleyball match will be held at the crossing, with two women’s teams made up of Italians, Palestinians and Israelis. The final ceremony for the runners will then take place at the Davidson Center in the capital’s Old City, along with a press conference.
The games are organized by the official Vatican pilgrimage organization Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP), in cooperation with the Italian Olympic Committee, the Tourism Ministry, the Civil Administration, the Jerusalem Municipality, Jerusalem Police, Jewish National Fund-KKL and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
On Monday, dozens of Italian and Israeli cyclists will inaugurate the Gospel Trail by riding a section of the trail from Migdal to Capernaum. Following the cycling event, hundreds of Italian pilgrims will celebrate mass in five boats, anchored on the waters of the Kinneret.
“Sporting activities will be the occasion for shared
time in which participants compete and measure themselves withreciprocal respect,” read a press release issued by the Holy See. “Insport activities, one strives not to destroy the other, but rather isspurred by a healthy spirit of competition. This attitude, applied todialogue amongst different cultures, helps to underline its wealth andimportance, and not to crush its identity.”
The statement added that “combining a pilgrimage with sports is awinning formula to facilitate dialogue among people, to open the way toa new chance for those who live in the Holy Land. ORP places itself atthe service of this ambitious objective, and with this event, wants tocreate the opportunity to communicate and to meet so conditions can becreated to give life to a constructive attitude that doesn’t come to anend with the event, but that goes forward in time.”