Custos: Arab Spring No Reason to Cancel Holy Land Trips

Pilgrims Are Safer Than Ever, Says Jerusalem Bishop

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ROME, SEPT. 1, 2011 (Zenit.org).- There is nothing to fear in the Holy Land and no reason to halt pilgrimages, according to the Franciscan Custos, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

Father Pizzaballa stressed safety when he made an appeal on Vatican Radio on Wednesday to increase the number of pilgrimages to the land of Jesus' birth.

The Franciscan recalled that a large percentage of Christians of the region depend on religious tourism, so pilgrimages are not only an experience of faith for the pilgrim, but also a sign of solidarity with the local Church, which "as everyone knows, is a very small community in need of help."

There has been a marked decrease in the number of pilgrims over the past four months, the priest reported.

He proposed that the reasons for this can be traced to the global economic situation, but also to false perceptions linked to the political instability in Arab countries.

"Despite what is happening in the Arab world, the Holy Land and pilgrimages to the Holy Land are absolutely safe," he explained. "There is no danger, no risk of any sort and, as in the past, there must be no fear of coming to have this experience."

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchy of Jerusalem echoed Father Pizzaballa's appeal.

"The Holy Land and the pilgrims' sites are safer than ever," he said.

He added that to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Places implies "a sign of solidarity with all the inhabitants, because a pilgrim is a figure of peace, a welcome figure, loved by all -- Muslims, Christians and Jews. And I can say, without exaggerating, that the figure of the pilgrim is a bridge between all: He carries out a work of peace, not only with his prayer, but also with his presence."