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Prepared for Pilgrims?

As Christian tourism surges, Holy Land believers brave troubled future.
2000This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Israeli and Palestinian officials are prepared for a record-breaking three million tourists coming to the Holy Land, including a Lenten visit by Pope John Paul II in March. But Christians who live and work in the region are as preoccupied as ever with the survival of their community in a politically contentious environment.While many Christians around the world celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Christ's birth, Arab Christians and Messianic Jews continue to find their place in Middle Eastern culture under a cloud.In Nazareth, Israeli Muslims and Christians are deeply at odds over the building of a large mosque adjacent to the Church of the Annunciation, one of the most significant sites of Christian worship in the region. Christian leaders took the unprecedented action of closing churches for two days in November to protest the Israeli government's support for building the mosque.But Christian tourists and pilgrims, eager to visit first-century archaeological sites, seldom interact with the worries of local Christians and their complicated political and religious relationships.Local Christians "don't know who we are anymore," says Elias Chacour, a Maronite Catholic and head of Prophet Elias College near Nazareth. "I carry the conflict. It's me, the conflict: Palestinian, Arab Christian, and citizen of Israel."Hating the Jews? We don't need that. On both sides, we have enough martyrs. We can't go back, but we can't go on as we are."In Bethlehem, stringent Israeli border controls have made life chronically difficult for Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, since the city itself came under the control of the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, Palestinian tourism officials have invested millions of dollars ...

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