Christian tourism: walking where Jesus walked

The Israeli government invested millions in Christian tourism this year, including a 39-mile Gospel Trail.

Daniella Cheslow
Period actors at Nazareth Village.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Many Christians want to walk in the path of Jesus, but few can profess to eat like him. On a tiny patch of land below a main road in Nazareth, actors in period garb spin wool, tend sheep, and serve lentil soup and broiled chicken that’s straight from a 1st-century menu.

Nazareth Village is one of dozens of sites catering to Christian visitors in Israel this holiday season. Christian tourism to Israel is on the rise, and the government has invested $16 million in the sector this year.

In Novem­ber, the Min­istry of Tourism inaugurated the Gospel Trail, a 39-mile­ path mar­ked in English that wends across Galilee in northern Israel. Visitors travel from ancient Nazareth to Capernaum, where Jesus began his ministry on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Rental bikes or horses turn a religious trek into a sporting adventure.

Just steps from the Old City, the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem offers a view of all of Jerusalem and to Bethlehem, Jordan, and Ramallah from its recently reopened restaurant under the command of nuclear chemist-turned-chef Rodrigo Gonzalez-Elias. Founded by French pilgrims in 1882, the Pontifical Institute remains a popular draw for Christian tourists with its lodging and incomparable rooftop views.

In Bethlehem, clergy from more than five denominations march through Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in colorful regalia just before Christmas mass. Last year, about 100,000 people poured into the city for the holiday, the most in a decade.

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