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Pilgrims return to the Holy Land at last


ReeveJ | CC BY-SA 3.0

Zelda Caldwell - published on 07/09/21

After a year and a half without pilgrimages due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Patriarch of Jerusalem welcomed a group of tour guides, priests, and journalists.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, welcomed the first group of pilgrims to the Holy Land since the COVID-19 lockdown was put in place a year and a half ago.

“The return of the pilgrims means for Jerusalem to breathe with two lungs again” said Archbishop Pizzaballa in an interview with Vatican Radio. 

“History is part of our faith”

The pilgrimage, which took place in the first week of July, was led by the Holy See’s Roman Pilgrimage Organization (Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi), and included a group of tour guides, priests and journalists.

Among the pilgrims was Cardinal Enrico Feroci, who serves as parish priest of the parish of Santa Maria del Divino Amore in Rome.

After visiting the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, Cardinal Feroci talked about the experience of visiting the sacred places of the Holy Land.

This place is always a place that speaks for itself, many times I have knelt there and put my head on that stone which received the body of Christ. St. Paul says that if Christ had not risen, our faith would be in vain. So this is a fundamental and central point of our experience. So this seems to me to be a moment of hope and also of inner joy in thanksgiving for what the Lord has done for us,” he said.

Fr. Filippo Morlacchi of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was among those to welcome the group.

“The most beautiful thing is to think that these places are not kept as a historical memory of stones and memories, which are still important because history is part of our faith. But beyond these stones, beyond these places, beyond these sanctuaries, there are communities who guard these sanctuaries, who live in these places, who pray in these places,” he said.

“Then we only hope that this will be an opportunity not only for many tourists to visit this land but for many faithful who, by drawing on the roots of their faith, can find the reasons to live it more deeply by returning to their countries of origin,”said Fr. Morlacchi.

The first pilgrimage since the lockdown

In addition to visiting the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Cenacle, among other holy sites in Jerusalem, the group journeyed to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and celebrated Holy Mass at the Church of the Nutrition in Nazareth. Also known as the Church of St. Joseph, this small church was built over what tradition tells us was Joseph’s workshop.  

Reopening to tourists and the faithful

Small groups of tourists are now permitted to visit Israel. The country’s Tourism Ministry recently announced that it would open the country to individual foreign tourists on August 1. The opening date was originally July 1, but an increase in coronavirus infections prompted moving the date ahead another month.

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