On our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we made it a point to give our patronage to Christian-owned businesses whenever possible. We felt it was important to show solidarity with Christians in the Holy Land in a tangible way by supporting their livelihoods.
For many Christians, running a local business is a major factor enabling them to stay in the Holy Land and thereby maintain a Christian presence there. Christians comprise less than 2 percent of the population and that number continues to decrease. Many emigrate due to high unemployment and a harsh financial climate.
Tourism plays a vital part in the Holy Land’s economy, and gift shops can grow quite large to accommodate this. (photo: CNEWA)
Some of our support for Christian businesses took the form of visits to gift shops to buy souvenirs. Many of us purchased olive wood holy statues — traditional handicrafts of the Holy Land. We also visited a wine shop run by Salesian Fathers, who have their own winery in the Cremisan Valley.
We stayed at the Ararat Hotel, a new Christian-owned hotel in Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories. Our other accommodations were at the Mount of the Beatitudes and Stella Maris guesthouses run by religious orders.
We also enjoyed a traditional lunch with Nora Kort, a Christian woman representing the Arab Orthodox Society. The Arab Orthodox Society of East Jerusalem is dedicated to helping Palestinian women help themselves. One of their initiatives is the Melia Art and Training Center — “an organization of women from all over the West Bank” dedicated to preserving traditional Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery.
Catholic Women’s League of Canada members examine embroidery sold through the Melia Art and Training Center. (photo: CNEWA)
One of the most memorable details of our trip to the Holy Land was the food — pita bread with hummus and other dips, kebabs, tabbouleh and more delicacies. We ate at numerous restaurants and really experienced the local culture through its cuisine.
Tour guide Alex, left, breathed life into our excursion by providing historical and biblical context. (photo: CNEWA)
Finally, our tour guide, Alexander (“Iskandar” in Arabic), was a Palestinian Christian. Alex was awesome — he greatly enhanced our experience of the Holy Land. He was not only knowledgeable of the cultural and historical context of the places we visited, but we also saw to the very roots of his deep Christian faith. In every place we visited, he brought out a Bible and we read a passage from Scripture pertaining to the place, treating us to a more complete experience. We also appreciated his patience and his humor. He was a pleasure to be around!