ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich., Jan. 15, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — EWTN Catholic television host, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. recently returned from leading pilgrims on his fifty-ninth trip to the Holy Land, home for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. He explained that Pope Francis’ plans to visit the Holy Land in May will be about ecumenism not tourism. “He’s very conscious of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic visit there.” During that visit, Pope Paul met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras to end the 900-year-long Great Schism between the East and West churches.
“The Pope is interested in finding greater rapport between our religious communities,” Pacwa said. “I would not be surprised if there are real steps forward at that time.”
After so many trips to the area, Pacwa said he has gained an increased sense of the area including the geography, history, and the present. He speaks Hebrew and Arabic and fits in easily. His perspective is that the Palestinians and Israelis both contribute to the conflict, but points to Israel’s high percent of atheism and low birth rate as what will ultimately be their undoing. “Children are for people who believe in the future and they are not having children,” he said. Pacwa attributed the drop in the Christian population from around 20% to 1% because they often were caught in the middle of fighting between the two adversaries.
He said he is often asked: “Is it safe to travel there?” According to him, the Israelis have a high level of security and the violence from the Israeli/Palestine conflict usually takes place far from areas people visit. “I don’t see any of the difficulties that people worry about,” Pacwa said. “I am more nervous in the U.S. because there is a higher rate of murder in our big cities.”
Pacwa said he does not go as a tour guide, but to bring people closer to Christ through prayer. He organized prayers and Scripture passages to link to the sites into a book for pilgrims which he has used for years. They are included in his new book, The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage. It was created as a virtual tour for people who would love to go but cannot. The biggest effect of visiting the Holy Land, according to him, occurs back home. “People tell me that the Mass comes alive for them when they listen to the Gospels and think, ‘I’ve been there!'”