A delegation of Indian religious leaders is in the Holy Land on pilgrimage to celebrate Lent.
They arrived last Sunday at the invitation of Israel's Tourism Ministry and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and they are scheduled to travel to the country's main holy sites until 1 March.
The delegation includes CBCI President Card Oswald Gracias, His Beatitude Card Mar George Alencherry Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the Most Rev Dr Soosa Pakiam, metropolitan archbishop of Trivandrum, Most Rev Filipe Neri Ferrao, patriarch of the East Indies and Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Dr Joshua Mar Nicodemos, metropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Right Rev Godwin Nag, president of UELCI and bishop of the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India.
On the first day of their stay, the religious leaders visited the Holy Sepulchre and celebrated the Eucharist on Mount Zion.
They later met with Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custodian of the Holy Land, who spoke to them about the Christian communities present, about their relations with other communities and their current situation.
They also discussed Indian pilgrims and how the Custody, together with Israel's Tourism Ministry, can improve and increase the number of visitors.
More than a million pilgrims visit the Holy Land each year. In the first half of 2010, they were 1.6 million, 39 per cent more than in 2009.
In the past few years, the number of pilgrims from Asia, especially India, has gone up considerably.
A good number of Indians also live in the country, mostly for work. Some 3,000 of them are Catholic.