Tourism Ministry begins preparations for pope's May visit

The Tourism Ministry has begun preparations for Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Israel in May, according to a statement released Wednesday. In the statement, Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila was quoted as saying "The Pope's visit to the Holy Land is an important and very significant visit that represents a strategic anchor for pilgrimage tourism to Israel in the coming years." "The atmosphere of understanding, reconciliation and peace between peoples and religions that the Pope inspires will contribute to a strengthening of Israel's image and encourage pilgrimages and tourism to Israel, especially in this period when the tourism industry is dealing with the ramifications of the global economic crisis," she added. Approximately one million Christian pilgrims visited Israel in 2008, with most touring the holy sites in Jerusalem, the Galilee and Bethlehem.