The act of pilgrimage is a "means of the New Evangelization" because travelling to sacred places in the footsteps of Christ can bring a "rebirth of faith". Whoever accomplishes it discovers that he or she has “received a calling from God, a vocation, a motion of the Spirit."
has now become essential for Europe and the West in general, where
"Christianity and religion are undergoing a profound crisis, "said Mgr
Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he noted that going on a pilgrimage
embodies "the theological meaning of the Bible, which is also shared by
Muslims and Jews." It is a "rebirth" and a "rediscovery" of one’s
origins, "to understand the places where our faith was born".
"Many pilgrims,” the bishop said, “tell us that the journey changed
them, and helped them see life through Biblical eyes. The pilgrimage is
also a source of vocations, of rediscovery of the faith and the calling
to God." However, this path " needs a companion".
constructive," said Mgr Marcuzzo, if they are "well prepared at the
beginning" and if "they have a follow-up; if there are opportunities,
with a guide, to reflect on the experience."
In addition to being a path of search and discovery, pilgrimages are
also an essential resource for the Christian population of the Holy
Land. According to recent statistics, at least 30 per cent of the local
community – in Jerusalem and Bethlehem – earn a living from religious
tourism. The decline in pilgrimages in recent years has badly affected
the economy and the survival of local Christians.
For Sobhy Makhoul, chancellor of the Maronite Patriarchate in
Jerusalem, when there are pilgrimages, "at least 30 per cent work
regularly. When pilgrimages are down, that 30 per cent is exposed to
unemployment and, therefore, directly or indirectly, to emigration."
This year there were "70 per cent fewer visitors than in the past."
It was "a lean year to say the least," and there are multiple factors
that have led to this: the security issue, attacks, the poor economy,
and the religious crisis, which particularly affects Europe.
"The trend is still downward,” Mgr Marcuzzo said. “This period,
traditionally the best par of the year for a trip to the Holy Land, is
confirmation of the crisis. Of course, there is a small recovery, but
the figure is far from the recent past."
The reasons are economic and security-related. Fears of attack are
unfounded however, the prelate stressed. To this, we must add the
gradual distancing from religion in certain countries or continents
(Europe first, but also the North America).
"Europe no longer believes
in pilgrimages,” said the patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem. “At best
people make a nice trip with a religious background, but its true and
deeper meaning is lost".
Shared by Jews and Muslims, the act of pilgrimage "is a process of
renewal, because it brings us where the faith was born. It is a
rediscovery of the community of origin, because here we find the direct
heirs who carry a collective and living memory of Jesus".
The crisis of pilgrims from Europe – except for Poland, where numbers
still hold – is compensated by the growth of Asian pilgrims: Filipinos,
Japanese, Koreans, but also Chinese and Vietnamese.
"In particular, for
the Chinese believers, the rediscovery becomes even stronger and more
intense,” the prelate said. “For them everything is new, unlike
Europeans who are more accustomed to the stories and places described in
the Bible. For the Chinese and Vietnamese, it is a real discovery with
an attitude of gratitude.” One can read the wonder of faith, the element
of incarnation in their faces. Here, eastern pilgrims discover the
human element which is in the divine and the divine that enters in the
human being. And this raises questions, sparks thoughts, generates
wonder . . .".
However, there are not only economic or religious obstacles to limit
the number of pilgrimages. "For some Arab Christians,” Mgr Marcuzzo
noted, “at present, there are problems entering Israel. Jordan is one
example. In some groups of pilgrims, half receive the visa, the other
half is rejected for no apparent reason. The father is accepted but not
the mother, the son but not the brother . . . Lately, a group of eight
new Jordanian deacons wanted to hold a prayer retreat in the Holy Land,
but had to desist because two of them had their visa application
"Security issues" have been cited, but they are laughable because
"our Christians are not involved in anything related to terrorism, or
acts of violence, or protests." The same is happening to Egypt’s
Christians, according to patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem. In recent
times, “it is the Egyptian government that is discouraging pilgrimages
for domestic reasons".
Responding to the calls from local Church figures, AsiaNews
has decided to offer again its readers the opportunity to go on a
pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the company Fr Bernardo Cervellera with
local specialised guides. The departure is set for 28 October 2016, with
return on 4 November. There are still some places available. For more
details, click here.