Pilgrimage hiking route which marks steps of Jesus inaugurated in Galilee.
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
A pilgrimage hiking route which marks the steps of Jesus has been inaugurated in the Galilee ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Nazareth, planners said Wednesday.
The 65-kilometer "Jesus trail," which begins in the boyhood town of Jesus, and continues to the Sea of Galilee is intended to let pilgrims and tourists trek through the landscape the same way Jesus did - by foot.
The project, which was jointly initiated by an Israeli entrepreneur with business holdings in Nazareth and an American outdoor adventure specialist, comes as Israel - and the town of Nazareth - expects an increase in Christian pilgrims in the wake of the pope's five-day visit.
The pope will visit the predominantly-Muslim city on Thursday, where he is scheduled to hold an outdoor mass.
More than half of the trail, which was first conceived of and drawn up in the joint Jewish-Christian venture two years ago, has been marked by the Society for the Protection of Nature, the Israeli developer said Wednesday.
"This hiking route will connect places of major importance to Christians to make it easy safe and informative for individual hikers and groups,"said Maoz Inon. "Our goal is to show hikers the multiculturalism that exists in Israel and a better understanding of what they see on the news."
The trail, which is intended to boost tourism to Nazareth and the Galilee, is open to hikers free of charge.
Inon said they expect 5,000 people to hike the trail this year, and hope to see the number rise to 100,000 annually in the next decade.
The American co-developer of the trail, David Landis, is an experienced outdoor adventure specialist whose vast hiking resume includes trails as varied as Everest base camp and other trails in the Himalayas, Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Saint Paul Trail in Turkey, the Inca Trail in Peru, Torres del Paine in Patagonia, the Israel National Trail and parts of the Appalachian Trail in the Eastern USA.
Landis met up with Inon while hiking the Israel National Trail.
"This is the first trail in Israel that has been blazed with foreign trekkers in mind, and our first historic long-distance trail,"said Gili Greenbaum, Marketing Coordinator of the SPNI. "Marking the trail serves both to improve accessibility to hikers and to limit environmental impact to one path."
A map of the route is available on-line at www.jesustrail.com, while a guidebook will be published in October.
Some 1.8 million of the three million tourists who visited Israel last year were Christian.
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