His Holiness Pope Francis will become the fourth pope to visit Israel when he arrives on May 25 for a two-day stay packed with activities in Jerusalem.
Pope Francis announced his pilgrimage to the Holy Land on January 5, remarking: “The main purpose of this pilgrimage of prayer is to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, which took place on 5 January, exactly 50 years ago today.”
After an arrival ceremony on Sunday afternoon at Ben-Gurion International Airport, he will be taken via helicopter to Mount Scopus, the highest point in Jerusalem, which affords a panoramic view of the city and especially the religious landmarks of the Old City.
That evening, he is scheduled to attend an ecumenical meeting in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, and share dinner with patriarchs and bishops at the Latin Patriarchate.
On Monday, the pope will tour the Temple Mount with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and then visit the Western Wall. He will lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl at Mount Herzl accompanied by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then proceed with them to the Yad Vashem World Center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.
Before returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis is to meet with the two chief rabbis of Israel; the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew; and 500 priests and seminarians in the Church of Gethsemane. His final activity of the day will be presiding over Holy Mass in the Room of the Last Supper, in the Cenacle on Mount Zion.
Venezuelan wins free trip to Israel
In advance of the visit, the Israel Ministry of Tourism invested about NIS 10 million ($2.8 million) in related marketing initiatives and infrastructure projects, including an online Instagram promotion that garnered some 50,000 clicks and 34 million banner views around the world during March and April.
Contestants were asked to log into Instagram, upload a 15-second video telling why they wanted to visit Israel, and tag the video #popeintheholyland. They were then asked to request their friends to like their video on Instagram and the Ministry of Tourism’s app, which was prepared in six languages.
The winner of the competition, 22-year-old Venezuelan Gustavo Adolfo Franco Picaza, won a free trip to Israel for this entry:
Uri Steinberg, director of digital and new media at the ministry’s American department, said its dedicated website for Catholic pilgrims will feature live streaming of the pope’s visit. The largest portion of viewers is expected to be from the United States, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Poland, France and Germany.
As a result of the visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis, who is a popular leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, the ministry estimates as much as a 10 percent increase in Catholic tourists. Christian tourism in general accounts for about 60% of all incoming tourism to Israel.
“Pope Francis speaks in volumes to followers,” Steinberg tells ISRAEL21c. “If he calls upon all Catholics to visit the Holy Land once in their lifetimes, that will bear a lot of significance to us. One of our goals is to be able to make sure the Catholic world knows, through social media and other PR initiatives, what is happening here.”
In addition to its Catholic pilgrimage website in six languages, the Tourism Ministry maintains six Catholic Facebook pages along with several geared to evangelical Christians. Such a targeted approach, Steinberg says, brings “staggering results” in terms of real tourists.
On the ground, the Tourism Ministry maintains and conserves Christian sites on an ongoing basis, including the Yardenit baptism site on the River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee trail and promenade, Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa, Ein Karem and pilgrimage routes in Jerusalem, Nazareth and more.
Improvements and upgrading in the area of Rachel’s Crossing between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and at the Room of the Last Supper, were carried out in advance of the Pope’s visit.
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said: “We welcome the Pope as a visitor of the highest importance. … We are greatly honored by his choice to visit Israel. We will continue to welcome the faithful with open arms, as they choose to visit Israel in the footsteps of the Pope.”