Church of the Nativity
Photo: AFP
Christmas in Bethlehem
Photo: Ziv Reinstein

Modern-day crusade reaches Israel

Four Christian pilgrims from Austria, Switzerland set to arrive in Holy Land after seven-month journey

Centuries after devout Christians embarked on drawn-out and arduous journeys to the Holy Land, a very unique crusade will reach Israel this week.


Four Christians from Austria and Switzerland - two men and two women – left Switzerland last June with the goal of crossing 4,300 kilometers by foot until they reach Israel.


Related stories:


For seven months the four pilgrims – Christian Rutishauser, Franz Mali, Esther Rüthemann and Hildegard Aepli - marched in the sweltering heat and freezing cold, bearing it all for the sake of reaching the Holy Land in time for Christmas.


The group walked 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) each day and used a GPS device to orient themselves. They crossed mountains and valleys, sailed in lakes and walked through remote pathways.


Their route took them from Switzerland through Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria. They were forced to make a two-month stop in Turkey, for fear of crossing Syria as the anti-regime protests began. Eventually, they took the risk and marched into the troubled country. Inevitably, at one stage they found themselves surrounded by Bashar Assad's soldiers who forced them to flee to the south by taxi.


"It was a very scary experience," recalls Rutishauser. "We were repeatedly interrogated as we insisted our destination was Amman. They looked suspiciously at our passports and continued to ask whether we were headed towards Israel."


The four are set to reach their final destination on Wednesday and arrive at the Allenby Crossing from where they will march to Jericho. Their journey will officially conclude at a mass in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Friday.


Message of reconciliation

"We are bringing a message of reconciliation at a time of global instability," Rutishauser said in a phone call on Tuesday.


"We have fulfilled our aim of reaching the Holy Land by foot and we hope to show that even today we can overcome differences in a spirit of hope and mutual understanding," he said. "This year's Christmas will definitely be special."


After the holiday, the four will attend an inter-religious conference in Jerusalem on modern pilgrimage hosted by the Elijah Interfaith Institute.


"These fabulous four prove that even in this day in age pilgrimages are of profound meaning," said the institute's founder and manager Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein.


"They are modern adventurists who embarked on a spiritual journey of peace and this week we look forward to congratulating them on their amazing accomplishment."



פרסום ראשון: 12.21.11, 14:08
 new comment
This will delete your current comment