TEL KINROT, ISRAEL—Luis Alvarado stood on a hill near Capernaum overlooking the sparkling Sea of Galilee. It was his second day on a pilgrimage tour and he was one of the first tourists to walk on part of the Gospel Trail, a new path that follows the steps of Jesus.
“It’s very different just reading the Bible and being in the place where it really happened,” said Alvarado, 48, who is here on a tour with his pastor. “Here, you can feel the presence of God. I know this is going to increase my faith and my understanding of the Bible.”
The 62-kilometre trail runs from the Mount of the Precipice, where many believe Jesus miraculously escaped an enraged mob, to Capernaum, the centre of Jesus’s ministry and the place where Jesus recruited Peter to be his disciple.
Another stop is the Mount of Beatitudes, reputed to be the site where Jesus delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount, which included the phrase “the meek shall inherit the Earth.”
The trail can be travelled by foot, bike or on horseback. It runs through the green hills of Israel’s northern Galilee region, where Jesus spent much of his life. Parts of the trail are unspoiled and remote — you can walk for hours without seeing any towns.
“I will certainly try and do the whole trail while I am here,” said Pablo Villa, 21, a Catholic seminary student from Colombia. “As a Christian, I am certain that Jesus Christ was right here and being here just confirms your faith.”
The tourism ministry invested $600,000 in the trail and the Israeli Jewish National Fund pitched in an additional $250,000.
Tourism ministry officials believe the trail will draw an additional 200,000 Christian visitors to Israel over the next two years. They will join the more than 2 million Christians who already come to the Holy Land each year, making up two-thirds of all tourists visiting Israel.
The Gospel Trail is similar to another trail in the Galilee, the 62-kilometre Jesus Trail, which runs from Nazareth to Capernaum. Critics questioned whether another trail, which partly overlapped the Jesus Trail, was necessary. Some hikers also said parts of the trail were not well marked.
Yet that lack of infrastructure is what makes the trail so meaningful, organizers say.
“This is a trail you can walk with the Bible in your hand and you can meet the landscape, the animals and the flowers that Jesus met when he walked,” said Uri Sharon, of the tourism ministry.
“Until now, following Jesus’s footsteps meant going from church to church. Now pilgrims can have more of an unmediated connection with the landscape.”
Linda Gradstein is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.