Peace Marathon to Join Pilgrims, Israelis and Palestinians

Elisa Moed

Peace Marathon to Join Pilgrims, Israelis and Palestinians

Combining pilgrimage to the Holy Land and athletics, the eighth John Paulus II Peace Marathon, scheduled for Monday, October 24, will feature a peace run from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and a soccer game with Italian, Israeli and Palestinian players.

The peace run begins at Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. A friendly soccer game will take place at the checkpoint in the middle of the 12-kilometer run. The runners then continue together in from the checkpoint to Notre Dame. The goal of the run is to continue the path of Pope John Paul II -- one of peace, camaraderie and companionship between peoples and religions.

Three hundred runners are expected to participate in the festive marathon, taking place this year for the eighth time, in addition to the many pilgrims who will accompany the runners on their journey. One hundred fifty runners from Italy have confirmed their participation, running alongside 150 Palestinians and Israelis, including a number of local runners organized through Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land.

The peace run is only one component of the JPI II games, a special five-day tour, organized by Italian pilgrimage organizer Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, which is an activity of the Vatican in conjunction with the Israel Ministry of Tourism. The mission of the JPI games is to unite people through sports and to encourage dialogue.

Star athletes from Italy are expected to join the run as well as the tour, including Giusy Versace from the famous designer Versace family, a paralympic athlete who lost both her legs in an accident, as well as former soccer stars Demetrio Albertini and Damiano Tommasi. Another highlight of the trip will be a visit to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Mount of Beatitudes.

Italy represents a very important tourism market for the Holy Land. In 2010, there were 160,000 tourists from Italy, representing a 32-percent increase over 2009 tourists. Most of Italy's tourism to the Holy Land is faith-oriented and primarily Catholic. Encouraging sports-oriented pilgrimage is an important aspect of Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi's effort to attract  people to participate in a religious pilgrimage. Pope John Paul II recognized early on that sports can bring people together.

"Sports have spread to every corner of the world, transcending differences between cultures and nations," he once said in a homily. "Because of the global dimensions this activity has assumed, those involved in sports throughout the world have a great responsibility. They are called to make sports an opportunity for meeting and dialogue, over and above every barrier of language, race or culture. Sports, in fact, can make an effective contribution to peaceful understanding between peoples and to establishing the new civilization of love."

Since 2002, Pilgrimage organizer Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi has been slowly developing the sports-oriented pilgrimage market, along with other niche pilgrimage markets.

"In the Holy Land it is likewise hoped that sports, which by their very nature are a vehicle of peace and use a universal language, represent an opportunity for people who normally live with different rhythms and customs to meet and embrace," the sponsoring organization said.

The Peace Marathon is scheduled to begin early on the 24th in Bethlehem and will close at Notre Dame Center with an awards ceremony. The Jerusalem Municipality and Police Department, the Civil Authority and the Italian Olympic Committee have joined forces to ensure the marathon is a success, accompanying the runners along the entire track.

Elisa L. Moed is the founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

Publication date: October 23, 2011

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