The Christian community in Nazareth sees buses of tourists pass through the city every day on their way to or from another historical site in Israel. Now, a new movement called Deglei Habrith (United Flags) is hoping to put Nazareth – believed to be the childhood home of Jesus — on the tourist map.
“Tourists come via Nazareth and don’t stay. Why bus through when there are great places to eat and visit? I want a lot of tourists from all religions to come and see Nazareth,” Capt. Bishara Shlayan, chairman of United Flags, tells ISRAEL21c.
One of Shlayan’s big ideas is to build a 30-meter statue of Jesus – similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro – on Mount Precipice. Positive and negative reactions have been swirling from all denominations.
Yet, Shlayan, a Christian merchant seaman, sees the publicity as promising.
“A lot of people are talking about the statue and it’s still just an idea. Imagine when it’s built how many people will come to visit,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “We’re not trying to convert people. A lot of tourists come to this site already. It’s not a political plan but one for everyone.”
He says the pilgrimage site on Mount Precipice, with the statue at its center, will be a symbol of peace, cultivate a sense of pride among Christians in the country, and help the city of Nazareth as well as the rest of Israel with an influx of tourism dollars.
After all, Christian pilgrims to Israel make up more than half the total number of visitors to the Holy Land.
Investing in Christian sites
In the last two years, the Tourism Ministry has invested $24 million in developing and maintaining the infrastructure of Christian sites throughout Israel.
“We have invested heavily in the development and conservation of the Christian holy sites in order to enrich the spiritual experience for the pilgrims who visit the Holy Land. We will continue to do this for the Christian faithful from around the world,” says Tourism Minister Uzi Landau.
The latest push by Nazareth locals for more tourism to their city follows in the footsteps of the sprucing up of the 40-mile Jesus Trail (connecting Nazareth and Capernaum) and the Gospel Trail.
Christmas in this Galilee city is always festive and full of visitors. But hotel proprietors and travel agents are still trying to persuade people that Nazareth is much more than a stop-for-an-hour place.
The upcoming visit by Pope Francis has the local Christian community excited but also a bit frustrated. The reported itinerary for the 48-hour visit includes Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
“I bless him that he’s coming to Israel but I was hoping he’d come to Mount Precipice as well,” says Shlayan, who is also the founder of the new Pro-Israel Christian political party, Bnei Ha’brit (Allies Party). “I’m disappointed that he won’t visit Nazareth but I am still hoping that he will come.”