Tips to getting around the Holy Land

Domes and cropped bell tower of Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo from

Pat McCarthy, a retired Catholic newspaper editor in New Zealand, has turned a retirement project into an online resource for Christians around the world who are considering a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The site  is an online guide to the history and significance of most of the sites on a pilgrim’s itinerary, describing with words and photographs the Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy places in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Egypt. McCarthy, the founding editor of New Zealand’s national Catholic newspaper, NZ Catholic, has led pilgrimages to many of these sites and has visited almost all of them, some several times.

The website, launched in May, also includes pilgrim information describing authenticity of sites, travel tips and how to organize a pilgrimage.

McCarthy said pilgrims not only get a spiritual benefit from visiting places where Jesus lived but their presence also show solidarity with the declining number of Christians still living in the Holy Land.

His research on the holy places has turned up interesting facts on sites that have disappeared, some that have been rediscovered and others that are not what they claim to be.  And he’s not done yet. After more than three years of research, he says the website is still a work in progress, with more holy places to be added.

Papal Plane to Cyprus

VATICAN CITY — Our senior correspondent, Cindy Wooden, is with the pope in Cyprus. Here is a snippet of what the pope talked about with journalists on the flight over from Rome:

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO CYPRUS (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI said he was deeply saddened by the murder of the president of the Turkish bishops’ conference, but he said Bishop Luigi Padovese’s death should not cast a shadow over his visit to the eastern Mediterranean or over Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

The murder “has nothing to do with the theme of this trip, with dialogue; it has nothing to do with Turkey or the Turks,” he told reporters flying with him to Cyprus June 4.

“Right now we have little information, but it is certain that it was not a political or religious assassination; it was personal,” the pope said.

Bishop Padovese, the apostolic vicar of Anatolia, died June 3 of stab wounds. His driver and friend, who had been undergoing psychiatric treatment, was arrested and reportedly confessed to the crime.

Flying to Cyprus, an island divided between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, the pope said, “It is a tragedy that saddens us, but it should not cast a shadow over the dialogue in every sense that will be a theme of this trip.”

The pope spent just under 15 minutes answering five questions posed to him by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. Journalists had submitted questions to Father Lombardi in writing before the trip.

Pope Benedict said that by visiting Cyprus and by presenting the working document for the special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, he hoped to promote peace, which is “the common responsibility of all who believe in the one God, creator of heaven and earth, the God in whose image and likeness we were created.”