Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and representatives from the Tourism Ministry on Wednesday hosted the traditional pre-Christmas reception for leaders of the Christian communities and churches in Israel at the Shimshon Center, Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem. The minister sent season’s greetings for Christmas to the Christian communities and invited the faithful around the world to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Levin said at the reception, “I welcome you and the believers from your communities who are expected to arrive in Israel for the Christmas holiday and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We are doing our utmost to ensure that their stay in Israel will be successful and enjoyable. The ministry invests significantly throughout the year in the conservation and upgrading of Christian sites in order to ensure that every Christian can visit the sites that are sacred for him and find them in good order, as befits their status. I invite you to visit the holy sites and enjoy the uniquely powerful religious and spiritual experience of the Holy Land.”
Also participating in the reception were the Director-General of the Tourism Ministry Amir Halevi, His Beatitude Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III, the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Nourhan Manoogian,the Custodian of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton, His Eminence Vatican Ambassador Giuseppe Lazzarotto, representative of the Latin Patriarchate Bishop William Shumali – Latin Patriarchate, Executive Director of the Christian Embassy Dr. Jurgen Buhler and representatives from many other Christian communities in Israel. Also in attendance were Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic community and representatives of government and private bodies involved in promoting Christian tourism to the Holy Land.
The Tourism Ministry is working to welcome the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to arrive in Israel for the Christmas period. According to Tourism Ministry statistics, over half of all incoming tourists to Israel were Christian. The ministry estimates that approximately 120,000 tourists will visit Israel in December, of whom half are Christian.
From 15:00 on Christmas Eve (December 24) through to 03:00 on Christmas Day, the Ministry of Tourism will offer free shuttle transportation, helping pilgrims travelling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Buses will leave every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour from the bus stop near the Carta Parking lot (opposite Jaffa Gate and near to the Mamilla Boulevard). The bus will also stop near the entrance to the Mar Elias Monastery, and at the Rosmarin junction, before continuing via Rachel’s Crossing to Bethlehem – and then back again. There may be changes to the schedule due to demand. Representatives from the Ministry of Tourism will welcome tourists and pilgrims at Rachel’s Crossing with a small gift in the spirit of the holiday. The ministry will also provide a firework display during the traditional Christmas parade in Nazareth.