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Nazareth Tourism Surge Print E-mail
By Jay Bushinsky
April 13, 2009

NAZARETH, Israel -- Mount Precipice, where an enraged mob wanted to throw Jesus Christ from one of its cliffs (Luke 4: 16-30) will be thronged with his disciples and worshippers next month when Pope Benedict XVI celebrates mass at its crest during his pilgrimage here next month.

A stadium built for the previous pontifical visit nine years ago is being expanded to enable an estimated 40,000 Christians from all over Galilee to join him in prayer.  The Pope is scheduled to arrive in Nazareth May 14 for an ecumenical event that enthusiastic Nazarenes expect to inspire future pilgrims to follow his itinerary in the footsteps of Jesus.

"We are building new roads, expanding our electrical grid to Mount Precipice and laying pipes to convey water to the stadium," said Suheil Diab, an aide to Mayor Ramez Juraissi.

"There will be seats for 7,500 people and space for the more than 35,000 on the surrounding grounds."  A helicopter pad is being leveled next to the stadium and another near the Basilica of the Annunciation. 

Most of the estimated 10 million dollars allocated for the 25 special projects under way has been granted by Israel's government in line with its effort to entice Christians from all over the world to visit this country.  A note of caution if not predictable realism was sounded by Atallah Mansour, a distinguished author and journalist who recalled the unbridled optimism that coincided with the advent of Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the second millennium.

"Our townsfolk were very excited about his stay and its aftermath," he said, "but they reverted to Middle Eastern realism when the second Palestinian 'intifada' erupted shortly after his departure and deterred pilgrims as well as tourists from coming here."
 
Mansour expects the Israeli authorities to assign an unprecedented number of police and plainclothes security agents to be on the lookout for terrorist acts designed to disrupt the papal visit.  He told of a shadowy group of Muslim extremists known as "Ahbab Allah," (translatable
as "God's Beloved") that resents a government decision nearly a decade ago to halt construction of a mosque near the Basilica of the Anunciation, where Pope Benedict XVI will pray, confer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meet local Christian and Muslim leaders and take time out to rest.

Originally, Israeli officials had approved the project which had been earmarked for a site believed to be including the grave of Shaab e-Din, a cousin of Sallah e-Din (Saladdin) who defeated the Crusaders in the crucial battle of the Horns of Hattin, east of Nazareth and overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  Intervention by Pope John Paul II and pressure from American bishops as well as President Bush made the Israelis change their minds, Mansour said.
 
The threat posed by the "Ahbab Allah" was dismissed as minimal-to-nil by Aatef Sahoum, a prominent Muslim merchant whose late father was Nazareth's mayor (from 1947 to 1954) when
the city fathers decided that the city's residents should stay put and cast their lot with the State of Israel when it declared its independence in 1948.
 
"Pope Benedict XVI will be welcomed by all Nazarenes," he said.  "He is a man of good will and as such will be greeted by all of us.  There will be no security problems."  Sahoum hopes his name will be on the list of notables cleared (by Israeli security) to meet the pontiff in the Basilica.
 
At this stage, the papal schedule does not call for stops at any of the historic shrines associated with Jesus Christ's youth in Nazareth.  Among those excluded are Mary's well, Joseph's carpentry shop and the Greek Catholic Church built over a former synagogue where Jesus first announced his messianic role.  However, he will enter Mary's home which was situated in a cave below the basilica.
 
A dramatic account of the events believed to have transpired where the Greek Catholic (Melkite) church stands can be found in Luke 3, 14-21.  It states in part: "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  And he went to the synagogue as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. 

And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah.  He opened the book and found the place where it was written:  "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives.  And recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed..."
 
The gospels go on to say that Jesus fled from the synagogue to Mount Precipice, but when the mob attempted to seize him he walked through it and proceeded to Capernaum (15 miles away) on the Sea of Galilee's shore.  This is site is maintained by the Franciscans and includes a Roman-era synagogue where Jesus also is believed to have preached.
 
All of modern-day Nazareth' hotels are fully booked for the pope's stay.  An international media center is being set up in one of them.
 
Access to the city will be monitored by the police and several of its central streets and avenues will be restricted to the papal entourage, the municipal hosts, accredited journalists and other authorized personnel.


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