January 2018, 'extraordinary' boom in pilgrimages to the Holy Land

The presence of Chinese, Russian and Eastern European pilgrims increased significantly. The "controlled" reaction of the Palestinians against Trump's decision on capital Jerusalem. Pilgrimages "good for the whole population": They help fight terrorism and fundamentalism.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - 2018 began with an "extraordinary boom" in pilgrimages. The Christian Information Center recently announced this, confirming the statistics of the Israeli ministry for tourism: the tensions over Jerusalem have not affected the steadily increasing number of pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land.

In the month that has just ended, 770 groups of pilgrims went to the Holy Land, for a total of 26 thousand people. A far more significant figure than the 529 groups registered in January 2017 and 390 in 2016.

A "boom" in pilgrimages that began at the end of 2017, as told by Sobhy Makhoul, deacon of the Maronite Patriarchate of Jerusalem. "Between November and mid-December there were many pilgrims, so many that for the first time we had to house some of them in the city like Hebron, almost 30 km south of Bethlehem."

"Europeans - he continues - are returning but not only, Chinese, Russian and Eastern European pilgrims are on the rise. There is a great movement on the part of the Orthodox Churches, they come in hundreds and hundreds. The fact that Israel has facilitated the visa application for the Chinese has also had a positive impact. For example, those who have already obtained a European visa can enter Israel without problems. Many rich Chinese come here, some of these are Protestants. "

"On paper, for 2018 there is an unexpected demand, we are hoping that the political situation will allow it, that there will be no sparks of tension".

The deacon emphasizes that not only are Christian pilgrimages on the rise, but also Muslim ones. In particular, there are huge flows of pilgrims from Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey.

According to Makhoul, the "hesitations" of the pilgrims were reassured by the "controlled" reaction of the Palestinians to the decision of the American president Donald Trump to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. "The Palestinians want to protest peacefully - explains the Maronite - all [the media] talk about war, but no one here wants it. Even the population in Israel no longer wants to hear about wars. People want peace, they want to live".

"[These pilgrimages] are for the good of the population; not only Christians, but also Muslims and Jews", concludes Makhoul. "When the economic situation is positive, people live and work. Fundamentalism and terrorism only take root where there is poverty and ignorance. This is something that the Western world must understand, by beginning to think differently about how to act and intervene in our "third world", helping people develop ".