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 CNS Story:

PILGRIMAGES Apr-4-2012 (630 words) With photos. xxxn

Holy Land pilgrimages on rise and could increase during Year of Faith

Father Harrington at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Fear of violence in the Middle East has not kept pilgrims away from the Holy Land, according to U.S. Franciscan priests who frequent the sites commemorating the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Any hesitancy to visit these places is "overcome by faith and interest," said Franciscan Father Jeremy Harrington, commissary and guardian of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington. The holy sites, he added, remain safe places to visit despite unrest in the region.

Father Harrington also is sure the number of pilgrims will increase during the Catholic Church's Year of Faith, which will begin Oct. 11 -- the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council -- and conclude Nov. 24, 2013 -- the feast of Christ the King.

In pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith, U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stressed the importance of pilgrimages to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City and to the Holy Land, "the place which first saw the presence of Jesus, the Savior, and Mary, his mother."

When pilgrims visit the Holy Land, they not only come away with a deeper sense of their faith, but they also show solidarity with the Christians living in the region, Father Harrington told Catholic News Service.

Franciscan Father Garret Edmunds, a pilgrimage guide in the Holy Land and vice commissary of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, said the number of pilgrims from Europe and North America has been stable. In recent years, he has seen an influx of pilgrims from Eastern Europe, Russia, India, the Far East, Africa and Brazil, which he attributes to emerging economies.

Franciscan friars know plenty about the Holy Land because they have been there for a long time. For more than 750 years, they have had a ministry there preserving shrines, welcoming pilgrims, leading parishes and schools and housing, and feeding those in need.

To continue the ministry they rely on an annual Good Friday pontifical collection that supports Christians in the Holy Land.

Proceeds of the collection, coordinated by the Congregation for Eastern Churches, are distributed to Latin and Eastern Catholic bishops, parishes, schools and projects in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Egypt.

This spring the Vatican published a summary report on how the Franciscan Custodians of the Holy Land have used donations from recent collections. The funds enabled the friars to improve facilities for pilgrims at a number of holy sites at Bethlehem, Jerusalem and other locations. Funds were also used to provide university scholarships to students in the region, offered counseling, housing and medical care to families in need and to build or rebuild Catholic parishes and schools.

The friars' work at the holy sites is particularly important because it enables these places to be monuments of faith, not just historical landmarks that are more like museums, according to Father Harrington.

The priest also knows not everyone can make a pilgrimage to the sites where Jesus was born, lived and died, because of the expense and time involved. That's why he encourages people to visit the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, which contains replicas of the Holy Land's famous shrines as well as a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes and the Roman catacombs.

The monastery, dedicated in 1899, is set on 40 acres of land near the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The priests who live and work there say it is often described as an oasis of peace.

Pilgrims are attracted to the shrines and also the outdoor gardens but they also come for Masses, daily confessions and adult education.

"To come here gives people the opportunity to see what goes on in the Holy Land," said Father Harrington.


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