Holy Land also struggling to make Christmas 'merry' due to pandemic
MANILA, Philippines — The Holy Land is among the top destinations in the world, with many Christians doing pilgrimage in many of its historic and religious sites.
Non-Christians likewise visit places like Jerusalem, Galilee and Bethlehem that they only have read and watched in popular media.
But like the rest of the world, the Holy Land is not spared from suffering the decline of tourist arrivals since the pandemic was declared in March by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Many countries and territories in the world have closed their borders as a result. The United Nations World Tourism Organization, on its Impact Assessment of the COVID-19 Outbreak on International Tourism, reported last October that international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) declined by 70% from January to August this year. This represents 700 million fewer international tourist arrivals in the same period last year.
The question now is: What happens to the families in Holy Land who rely on tourism as their means of livelihood?
Several organizations took it upon themselves to help those in Holy Land tourism that have been affected by the pandemic. Among these is the Order of the Holy Sepulchre through its Grand Magisterium, which created the COVID-19 Humanitarian Support Fund.
Over 30,000 Knights and Dames from all over the world belong to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. With the creation of the special fund, the Order was able to send, in addition to its regular aid, about three million euros to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
“There is in fact no region in the world that has not been affected, to some extent, by COVID-19. The Holy Land, where the very economic lifeblood of thousands of families lies in religious pilgrimages and tourism, has been seriously affected,” Grand Master Cardinal Fernando Filoni said in May.
Following this announcement, around two million euros in addition to the one million euros for general humanitarian costs, were given to the patriarchate for its COVID-19 needs.
Sami El-Yousef, Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that the humanitarian aid extended by the Grand Magisterium of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre was able to help over 2,400 families in more than 30 parishes with basic needs, including food coupons, hygiene and baby supplies, medicines and electric meter refills.
This was done through the parish priests and parish councils who collaborated with local authorities to ensure fair distribution. He added that 1,238 families in Jordan and 1,180 families in Palestine were supported with their unpaid tuition fees.
The Governor General of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Ambassador Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, commented: “During the days of lockdown, we reached out to the heads of the Lieutenancies who, despite needing to respond to the needs caused by the health emergency in their own countries, wanted to make their closeness felt to their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land who had been so sorely affected. We are grateful that the special aid sent to the COVID-19 Fund did not substitute the regular commitment of our members in contributing to the daily life of the diocese of Jerusalem, but rather was added to it.”
Msgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Patriarchate, thanked the the Order and expressed how the families in the Holy Land felt supported by the Knights and Dames from all over the world.
“Thanks to the support of the Grand Master with the Grand Magisterium, our appeal to the Knights and Dames has had a reply that very much exceeded our expectations and has given us that necessary sigh of relief, so that we can manage this emergency with greater calm. We have all been left astounded and touched by the immediate response and its scope,” he said.
In the last 10 years, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre has sent more than 120 million in contributions to the Holy Land, of which 14 million was sent during 2019.