Nazareth prepares for papal pilgrimage

Mayor Jaraisy: We've completed 50%-60% of the work but haven't received even 1 shekel from gov't.

Nazareth 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy, David Landis )
Nazareth 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy, David Landis )
Massive preparations are already under way in Nazareth for a mass that Pope Benedict XVI will lead there on May 14, even though the government has yet to officially allocate any money for the event, Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy said on Monday. "We did not even receive one shekel. We have not even paid one shekel, and we have already completed 50 to 60 percent of the work," Jaraisy told The Jerusalem Post following a press conference on the topic. The Nazareth mass, which is expected to draw some 40,000 worshipers, will be the largest of the three masses held in Israel and the West Bank during the pope's first visit here from May 8-15. The other masses will be held in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem. The Nazareth municipality did receive a letter from the office of the Prime Minister's Office director-general some weeks ago, informing it that NIS 16.7 million would be approved and that the municipality should find other sources to finance the NIS 3m. plus additional money that would be needed, he said. But the municipality had yet to receive "official approval" that would lead to the transfer of the money, he said. Jaraisy said he had spoken to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday by phone and expressed his concerns regarding the heavy risk the municipality was taking, since much of the work was already done. Netanyahu "promised to nominate someone from his office to take care of the issue," Jaraisy said. A spokesman from the Finance Ministry said it would first have to be decided which ministry would allocate the money. He said he did not know when that would be. Jaraisy said he was confident the money would be transferred, but hoped it would be sooner rather than later. Contractors and service providers have begun their work, but have not signed contracts due to the lack of approval, he added. Construction under way includes an amphitheater on 25 dunams of Mount Precipice (Mount Kedumim) for the pope's mass, which will include 7,000 permanent seats and an additional 35,000 terraced plastic seats. Part of the amphitheater was built in the 1990s, in preparation for a large mass that Pope John Paul II was expected to hold there in 2000. However, the mass was eventually held in Korazim, near Tiberias, he said. The additions to the amphitheater will cost around NIS 4.5m. The amphitheater will be available after the pope's visit for cultural events and is expected to become "a cornerstone for economic development," he said.