Photo Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90
Christmas tree lighting ceremony outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem,

Israel’s Tourism Ministry is busy preparing to welcome tens of thousands of visitors expected to arrive in Israel for Christmas. From 3 PM Christmas Eve (December 24) through 3 PM Christmas Day, the Tourism Ministry will offer free shuttle transportation for pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The shuttle buses will leave on the hour and half hour from the bus stop near the Carta Parking lot opposite Jaffa Gate near Mamilla Boulevard. The shuttles will also stop near the entrance to the Mar Elias Monastery, and at the Rosmarin junction, before continuing via Rachel’s Crossing to Bethlehem – and then back again. There may be changes to the schedule depending on demand.

The Tourism Ministry last week held the traditional annual pre-Christmas reception for Christian tourism professionals, as well as Church leaders and members of the Christian communities in Israel, including Apostolic Nuncio to Israel H.E. Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton and Dr. Juergen Buhler, Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Among the diplomatic corps present at the reception were Italian Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti, French Ambassador Hélène Le Gal, and Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan.

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Tourism Ministry Director-General Amir Halevi lit Hanukkah candles.

Archbishop Aristarcos from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem spoke of Jerusalem as the “universal symbol of peace and the most important destination of pilgrims in the world.” He noted that there are an “extraordinary number of pilgrims visiting the city, a number which grows with each passing year.”

Clergyman Koryoun Baghdasaryan from the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and Dr. Juergen Buhler, Director of the International Christian Embassy to Jerusalem both spoke about the importance of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the holy sites around the country, which offer a unique and meaningful experience for the faithful.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.