Chilean miners invited to Israel for Christmas pilgrimage

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov formally invited the miners and their spouses to visit Israel on a spiritual journey this Christmas.

Chilean Miners 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Chilean Miners 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Tourism Ministry announced on Monday that it had invited the 33 Chilean miners who were rescued last week after spending 69 days trapped underground to visit the Holy Land for Christmas as the ministry’s guests.
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov formally invited the miners and their spouses to visit Israel on a spiritual journey, to give prayers of thanks for their rescue. The visit would include visits to sites holy to Christianity.
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“Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all,” Meseznikov wrote in his invitation.
“It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land.
“This December, Christians around the world – and here in the land of Jesus – will celebrate Christmas. During that time, we welcome tens of thousands of pilgrims and we would be pleased to offer you this uplifting and extraordinary experience, as our guests,” wrote Meseznikov.
The invitation, in cooperation with commercial enterprises in the tourism industry, includes flights, hotels and full board for 5-7 days, as well as sightseeing tours and visits to holy sites. It not known whether the invitation has reached the miners.
The miners, who while underground signed a pact of silence on details of how they endured 17 days, desperate and starving, with no word from the outside world, and agreed to share in any proceeds arising from their collective experience, have been reluctant to speak with reporters.
Since their dramatic rescue from the mine, the miners have received countless offers from states, commercial bodies and individuals. According to news reports, the miners received gifts ranging from sunglasses to signed soccer jerseys, iPads and paid vacations, in recognition of their courage and resilience.
On Sunday, a group of the rescued miners visited the site of the rescue, above ground, to celebrate a Catholic mass in thanks.
According to the Tourism Ministry, religious pilgrimages represent one-third of incoming tourism to Israel annually.
In 2008, Israel’s record year, 62 percent of the 3 million tourists who visited Israel were Christian, of whom more than 60% cited pilgrimage as the reason for their visit.
In 2009, 2.7 million tourists visited Israel, of whom 58% were Christian, with more than half of them citing pilgrimage as their reason for the visit.
“Christian tourism, in all its various streams, is the main target group of Israeli tourism, in which the ministry invests focused marketing activities in order to increase incoming tourism.
“Within the framework of the new positioning of Israel as the Holy Land, with Jerusalem at its center, the ministry is working to turn these tourists into ambassadors for Israel in their home countries,” Meseznikov said.