Walking down the Via Dolorosa, Nabil placed his hand on the wall where Jesus reportedly stumbled on his way to being crucified.
I am a lucky man, thought the 58-year-old. I can feel the Holy Spirit in my body.
This wasn’t how the Coptic Orthodox pilgrim had expected to feel in Jerusalem’s Old City. “Most Egyptian Christians want to visit as part of their faith,” he said, noting that he saw many elderly women dressed in black, weeping at each station of the cross. “Not me. I’m retired, I have nothing else to do, and I like to travel.”
Touring the Holy Land has been a transformational experience for Christians worldwide. In 2014, more than half of the 3.3 million tourists who visited Israel were Christians, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of these, one out of four was Protestant.
But among these tourism figures, the Arab Christian community is nearly a no-show. In 2014, Jordan sent only 17,400 tourists (which were not differentiated by religion). Egypt, only 5,200—all Copts. Lebanon forbids travel to Israel entirely.
So Close Yet So Far
There are many reasons Arab Christians don’t tour Israel. The ancient sites are right in their backyard, so familiarity breeds complacency. And economic and political conditions hamper travel.
“I grew up minutes from Mary’s Well in Nazareth, and walked to school daily past the Church of the Annunciation,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical. “It’s where I met friends for coffee.”
Qubti grasped the significance of these places only when she met foreigners who treated her hometown like Hollywood. As she matured in her faith, she found herself visiting the holy sites to pray.
Now Qubti ...1