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  • 20% increase in Christian pilgrims expected this year
  • Tourism Ministry to provide free shuttles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for Christmas Mass celebrations

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin: “Israel invites the faithful from all religions to pray, worship and visit all the holy sites in Israel, in freedom and security.  I am proud to take this opportunity and announce that, this year, we have broken all previous records for incoming tourism and are set to end 2017 with a record 3.5 million tourists, half a million more than the previous record. This growth is the result of the many changes and developments spearheaded by the Tourism Ministry.”

Jerusalem, December 20, 2017 - The Tourism Ministry is working to welcome the tens of thousands of visitors expected to arrive in Israel for the Christmas period. From 15:00 on Christmas Eve (December 24) through to 03:00 on Christmas Day, the Ministry of Tourism will offer free shuttle transportation, helping pilgrims travelling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Buses will leave every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour from the bus stop near the Carta Parking lot (opposite Jaffa Gate and near to the Mamilla Boulevard). The bus will also stop near the entrance to the Mar Elias Monastery, and at the Rosmarin junction, before continuing via Rachel's Crossing to Bethlehem - and then back again.  There may be changes to the schedule due to demand.

The Tourism Ministry held last week the traditional annual pre-Christmas reception for Church leaders and members of the Christian communities in Israel. The Tourism Ministry Director-General Amir Halevi lit the Hanuka candles. Participating in the event, among others, were Apostolic Nuncio to Israel H.E. Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli,  Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton and Dr. Juergen Buhler, Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Among the diplomatic corps present at the reception were, among others, Italian Ambassador Mr. Gianluigi Benedetti, French Ambassador Mrs. Hélène Le Gal, Australian Ambassador Mr. Chris Cannan, as well as representatives from the Christian tourism sector.

His Eminence Archbishop Aristarcos from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem spoke of Jerusalem as the “universal symbol of peace and the most important destination of pilgrims in the world.” He noted that there is an “extraordinary number of pilgrims visiting the city, a number which grows with each passing year.” Father Koryoun Baghdasaryan from the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and Dr. Juergen Buhler, Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem both spoke about the importance of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the holy sites around the country, which offers a unique and meaningful experience for the faithful as they walk in the footsteps of Jesus.



Events in Nazareth:

Saturday, 23.12.17

15:00 Traditional parade through the main street of Nazareth to the Basilica of the Annunciation, with the participation of thousands of youth from the local youth organizations, heads of the Christian churches and other local dignitaries.

18:00  Firework display to open the festivities, courtesy of the Tourism Ministry

Sunday, 24.12.17

19:30 Main mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation

Detailed information about Christmas services and festivities at the website of the Christian Information Center http://www.cicts.org/default.asp?id=353

Statistics on Christian tourism:

According to Tourism Ministry statistics, more than half of all tourists in 2016 were Christian. The ministry estimates that about 120,000 of the tourists who visited Israel in December 2016 were Christian pilgrims. An increase of about 20% is expected over the 

Christmas period this year as compared to last year, in line with the overall expected increase in incoming tourism.

53% of the 2.9 million tourist entries (those staying at least one night) in 2016 were Christians. Of these, 38% were Catholic, 28% Protestants, 28% Orthodox. Among the Protestants, 75% were Evangelicals (who comprise 21% of all Christian tourists and 13% of all tourists) while 21% were from the mainstream and the Afro-American church. Among the Orthodox, 71% belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, and29% to the Greek Orthodox and others.

23% of all visitors to Israel defined the purpose of their visit as pilgrimage. The vast majority of all Christian visitors visit Jerusalem, with about 40% visiting Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The most visited sites by Christians (by descending order) Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Jewish Quarter, Western Wall, Via Dolorosa, Mount of Olives, Capernaum, Church of the Annunciation and City of David.

Photo Silvia Golan