Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The official flag off of this year’s Christian Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Israel will begin on Sunday evening at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
On the whole a total of 1,500 pilgrims will be airlifted to Israel as part of the Easter edition of the pilgrimage exercise.
Speaking during a meeting meant to assess the preparedness of the pilgrim commission, the Executive Secretary of the NCPC, Rev. Uja said that a lot had been done to make the exercise a hitch-free one.
He said that a total of about 19,000 pilgrims are expected to participate in this year’s pilgrimage to Israel.
Uja said the commission had progressively improved on the services and processes involved in organising the pilgrimage over the years.
According to Uja, the high point of the efforts of the commission was in 2018 where it recorded the lowest number of abscondment and visa refusals by the Isreali authorities.
The report of last 2018 Easter pilgrimage showed that a total of 1,955 pilgrims took part in the exercise while 255 persons were refused visa.
In the same vein, the report indicated that 189 pilgrims from the Southeast states went on the Easter pilgrimage in 2018, whereas 478 came from the Northeast. South-south recorded a total of 310, Northwest -4, Southwest 196 and North-central 485.
Speaking on some of the challenges facing the commission, Uja said the inability of the Federal Government to concretize bilateral agreement on air travel between Israel and Nigeria was hampering the plan to have direct flights into the holy land.
The Executive Secretary appealed to the FG to expedite action in reaching a bilateral agreement with Israel to make the travel arrangements earlier.
He said that flights for this year’s pilgrimage will be routed through Jordan to Israel.
He pointed out that serving in the pilgrimage was a very important national service which places every pilgrims’ leaders in the front line of national service.
He advised the leaders of the pilgrims to strive to put the interest of Nigeria first in the discharge of their responsibilities.
Addressing officials of the commission, Uja asked them to try and live up to expectations.
e cautioned those charged with job of management of Christian pilgrimage in the states, especially the chairmen and secretaries to avoid infighting and rivalries which tends to divert their attention from their core responsibilities of promoting peaceful pilgrimage.
He said that the exercise was moved from February to June in order to make sure adequate preparations were put in place for a hitch-free pilgrimage this year.