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Tel Aviv – Israel is embracing Christianity.
Or more precisely, the Jewish state is embracing Christian pilgrims, and has switched its prime tourism marketing focus from, as a Tourism Ministry official once put it, the country as a source of ‘sea, sun and (super model) Bar Rafaeli,’ to Israel as the Holy Land with Jerusalem at its centre.
As far as the officials are concerned, the strategy is paying off.
Some 69 per cent of the 3.45 million tourists who visited Israel last year were Christian, double the amount of the previous year. More than half of them were Catholic, and nearly 40 per cent of all incoming tourists described themselves as pilgrims.
Most visited Bethlehem, Christian sites in Jerusalem, and Nazareth – according to city officials, the town where Jesus spent his boyhood had the highest hotel occupancy in Israel in the past two years.
The latest initiative to attract pilgrims is the 60-kilometre ‘Gospel Trail,’ which runs from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. Developed at a cost of 600,000 dollars, it encompasses sites visited by Jesus and his disciples.
These include the starting point, on Mount Precipice, where according to the Gospel of Saint Luke an angry mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff outside Nazareth after he had preached in his hometown synagogue.
The route also takes in Tabgha, where Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes and the site of his post-resurrection appearance, and the Mount of Beatitudes, where he delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
The trail ends at Capernaum, on the north-west-tip of the Sea of Galilee, which was the centre of Jesus’ Galilee Ministry.
Secondary trails from the main route take in Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine, Mount Tabor, believed to be the ‘high mountain’ where Jesus ascended and underwent the Transfiguration, and the Horns of Hittin, site of an 1187 battle between the Crusaders and Saladin.
The trail is set to open to pilgrims in the coming weeks, once all the necessary infrastructure has been completed, but a pre-opening hike for journalists and Catholic seminary students took in the first three or so kilometres.
The route snakes – at times steeply so – down Mount Precipice through trees and along rock-strewn fields with Nazareth, itself built on a hill which gets smaller and smaller in the background before disappearing around a bend in the path.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Nazareth, beamed as led the hike, and unlike some of the reporters who accompanied him, showed no ill-effects from the walk in the sun. Behind him, students from the seminary played guitars and sang, their joy at walking the trail clearly evident.
The opening of the Gospel trail comes several months after the Tourism Ministry unveiled another pilgrimage route, this one based around sites visited by, or associated with, the Virgin Mary.
Called ‘In the footsteps of the Virgin Mary,’ the route takes in Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, Capernaum, and of course Bethlehem, this last stop on the itinerary in cooperation with local Palestinian tourism personnel.
A 10-day itinerary takes in Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Mount Tabor, Haifa, Caesaria, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
A shorter, five-day itinerary includes Nazareth, Jerusalem, Capernaum and Bethlehem.
‘The Holy Land is the homeland of the Virgin Mary, where all the important events in her life took place, and it is only natural to follow a pilgrimage itinerary in her footsteps,’ said Tourism Ministry Director-General Noaz Bar Nir.
It’s not only Israel’s Tourism Ministry which has seen the potential of faith-based tourism.
Parallel – almost literally so – to the Gospel Trail is the privately run, 65-kilometre-long ‘Jesus Trail,’ launched in 2007 on the initiative of American Christian David Landis and boasting the slogan, ‘Jesus didn’t take the bus, why should you?’
Organizer say around 5,000 people have taken this advice and walked all or some of the trial since it was opened.
Although the people behind the Jesus Trail congratulated the Tourism Ministry on the pre-launch of the Gospel Trail, co-founder Maoz Inon did express concern that ‘having two similar trails will be confusing for hikers.’
The above was here.
Bible Places.com via the ever vigilant Joseph Lauer:
This article in the Jordan Times has some new information about the metal codices, particularly with regard to the seven books recently recovered by Jordanian police.
Authorities are set to send the recently recovered books to three separate labs for further analysis – in Britain, the US and at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman – in order to determine if the texts are indeed “the greatest discovery since the Dead Sea scrolls” or little more than sophisticated forgeries.
According to Saad, it will take experts three weeks to complete the tests on the recently recovered texts.
“Our position is quite clear; we need to make sure these pieces are authentic before moving forward with our case,” Saad added.
Hassan Saida, the Israeli bedouin farmer who is currently holding the cache at an undisclosed location near his home in the village of Um Al Ghanem, insists that the lead-sealed texts were passed down from his grandfather, who stumbled upon the cache while tending to his flock in northern Jordan in the early 1920s.
Saida has dismissed the department’s claims that the books were illegally excavated from Jordan some four years ago as a “publicity stunt”.
“They [the Jordanian Department of Antiquities] are going about making all these claims about these codices and they don’t even know what they are,” Saida told The Jordan Times recently.
Rather than the records of the earliest Christians, Saida claims he has proof that the books date back even earlier – predating the time of Christ – and are strictly “ancient Hebrew texts” which he intends to place in an Israeli museum.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) has previously cast doubt over the books’ authenticity and denied any interest in the texts.
The full article has more details.
Fr Z in the Washington Post:
In some cities in the USA when a local team wins a basketball game, crowds burn cars. But when John Paul II’s body was lying on view in St. Peter’s Basilica, one first responder, police officer and volunteer worker after the next told me that there had not been a single act of civil disobedience or problem reported. That means something. During the days which preceded his funeral, armed with media credentials I was able to move freely through the checkpoints and channels for the millions, literally, of people who stood in slow moving lines for scores of hours to see the dead Pope’s body for the last time. Peacefulness, prayer and patience reigned.
At the end of the funeral, the wind blew closed the cover of Book of the Gospels. Men lifted John Paul’s onto their shoulders. They stopped before the open doors of the Basilica and slowly pin-wheeled, as if to give him one last public wave. A shout went up, simultaneous because of the huge video screens along the nearby streets. That shout, which echoed across a silent and motionless Rome, may have been the single loudest purely human sound ever raised on high in that City of over 3000 years.
There began the rising chant of the people, “Santo Subito… Sainthood Soon”. It may have been a manifestation of the old adage Vox Populi Vox Dei… The Voice of the People is the Voice of God. I don’t know that, but it was unlike any chant I had ever heard before. Of course when in Rome you hear the word “subito,” especially from a waiter, you almost never expect what you’ve requested to happen quickly. And yet here we are at his beatification…
Read on here.
And now for some local falleness: Trying to make a quick buck:
A 67-year-old Roman Catholic priest was arrested at his Queenstown church mission for allegedly selling baby formula meant to be given free to underprivileged children.
The priest was arrested on Thursday afternoon while allegedly selling the milk to the public, after police and the Eastern Cape health department were alerted to the trade, Daily Dispatch reported on Friday
The newspaper reported that police and department officials set a trap and bought a tin of milk from the church for R35 before the arrest.
Queenstown’s Warrant Officer Namhla Mdleleni said police were investigating.
“We can confirm the arrest of a 67-year-old father from the Roman Catholic Church. He will be charged with dealing and possession of suspected stolen baby formula,” she said.
Police found more than 1400 tins of 400g baby formula packed in a back room of the church mission.
Near them was a cash till with cash in it.
The newspaper quoted one of the customers, Nontsapho Tshaya, saying she was frightened as about five police officers had questioned her.
“I am coming from a village and I didn’t know that this was illegal. Am I to be arrested? I am scared,” she said.
Police did not arrest her but took the milk that she had just bought from the church.
The priest was expected to appear in court soon.
Don’t be dishonest… ever! It’s just not worth it…