Have concerns about the safety of traveling to the Holy Land? Fear no more! This handy map and the wisdom of Fr. David Wathen, OFM, Director of the Franciscan Monastery Pilgrimage Office in Washington, D.C., will help reassure you of the safety of a Franciscan Holy Land pilgrimage.
The image below illustrates the path of our pilgrimages and the location of Gaza, the site of the May 2018 protests, over 60 miles away.
Caption: Gaza (in red) and Franciscan Pilgrimage Itinerary (marked by dotted trail)
Testimony from Recent Holy Land Pilgrims
Barb Ostrin made her Franciscan Holy Land pilgrimage during Holy Week 2018. A seasoned traveler from Oceanside, CA, Barb shares her experiences and a message regarding travel in the Holy Land. “It was very comfortable entering into Jerusalem and very safe. Somebody there asked me to spread the word about how safe it was. It was incredibly safe at all the borders.”
Barb added, “Even in the Muslim quarter, they’re very happy to see the tourists, and they’re very pleasant. No one is out to get the tourists. People think that it’s dangerous, and I had heard that it’s not, but until you see it, once you see it, you see it’s very safe.”
Deacon Roger Filips and his wife, Ann, are residents of Omaha, Nebraska. They traveled with the Franciscan Holy Land friars on pilgrimage in 2017, and when asked if she felt safe during her Holy Land tour, Ann said, “I never once felt uneasy, scared, or anything.“ In a video (see below), Deacon Roger Filips offers an interesting perspective on news of violence coming out of the Holy Land.
A Franciscan Friar of the Holy Land Shares Safety Insights
There has been instability in the region for hundreds of years, yet over that time, the Christian holy sites have remained safe for pilgrims. Fr. David Wathen, OFM, has personally been leading Franciscan Holy Land pilgrimages since 1990. When asked about safety on pilgrimage, he offered these insights:
- Pilgrims are not the intended targets of terrorists, as all peoples in the Holy Land region depend on tourism as a means of support. Christians and Christian holy sites are also not typically targeted by attackers. In comparison, terrorist violence and mass shootings in the U.S. have included the targeting of Christian churches or have been generally focused on crowded places or events frequented by tourists, which might be why some are concerned.
- In general, Israeli security forces have enhanced security in and around the city of Jerusalem.
- Because the Holy Land is our home, we are aware of the “climate” of the region. If tensions have increased due to a recent event, we will have first-hand knowledge of it and be able to make itinerary changes if necessary and put safeguarding measures into effect. We would never expose a group to a site or an area where there is increased probability of violence. If the situation was not safe, we would not bring a pilgrimage group to the Holy Land.
- No travel experience is without the possibility of danger, as is the case when traveling within the U.S. It’s a risk any of us take when we travel, but many feel an opportunity to support Holy Land Christians and walk in the footsteps of Jesus is worth the risk.
- The only one who can guarantee us anything is the Lord; as we travel, we humbly put our trust and confidence in Him and His protection over all who seek deeper relationship with His Son. Your pilgrimage is a prayerful journey of faith, and as such, I ask you to pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit if you’re having any reservations. “…perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). I’m sure that in prayer, He’ll dispel fears and bring you peace if it’s His will that you make this journey.
Pilgrimage Supports Christians in the Holy Land
With Christians now representing only 2% of the population in places like Bethlehem, Christians in the region need our support now more than ever! These Christians depend on the tourism industry to survive, and a steady stream of pilgrims helps support their livelihood and keep them in the Holy Land. Without a steady stream of pilgrims, we could lose a Christian presence in the Holy Land within a very short time.
We hope this puts your mind at ease regarding your travel with Franciscan Holy Land pilgrimages. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Maureen in the Franciscan Holy Land Pilgrimage office.
As Deacon Roger Filips wisely suggests about making a Holy Land pilgrimage, “First, every Christian needs to do it. Second, you don’t need to worry about the security. If you have the means to do it, do it as a pilgrim, not as a tourist, and you’ll never be the same.”