The Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) has been on the radar in recent weeks, strengthening collaboration with various state governments and other stakeholders to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land more meaningful. REGINA OTOKPA reports
A visit to the Holy land of Israel is the dream of many Christians in Nigeria. Although the religious and sacred exercise is highly cherished and revered, it has been greeted with quite a number of challenges which includes abscondment and other unruly behaviour of some pilgrims.
When he took over the helms of affairs as Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC), Rev. Yakubu Pam articulated a new vision for the organisation. He also gave assurances of repositioning the NCPC and the pilgrimages, to portray Nigerians as responsible individuals, boost economic development and ensure value for money on every trip.
“My priority is to make sure that the image of this institution is positive. This place is like a church; a house of God, but so much has happened in the past. We want the image of this place to be transparent. We want the image of this place to be seen by the outside world as a place of God.
“We want to raise the issue of those going to Israel on a pilgrimage. We want to make sure that the people who are going to Israel are responsible, pious people; not people who think they’re just on a tourism trip. We must look at the challenges we have in our country and put a good lesson for our people when they go there and teach them.
“Israel is a place we can learn a lot from. Jerusalem is a place we can learn a lot from. Rome is a place we can learn a lot from. It is not just to travel and see the buildings and all the rest.
We must go there to see what they are doing there,” he said. By December, Pam will, for the first time as head of the NCPC, be in charge of the holy pilgrimage. He is already thinking out of the box to create better experiences for the pilgrims, Nigeria and countries to be visited.
At various meetings with state governors and Christian Pilgrims Boards in some of the states visited during his ongoing tour, Pam disclosed ongoing plans to make pilgrimages more spiritual. He has introduced a welfare saving scheme and a three- day orientation for intending pilgrims in respect of the general pilgrimage exercise to Israel, Rome and Greece coming up in December.
The orientation exercise is aimed at educating the pilgrims on the true essence of a religious pilgrimage and will hopefully curb the incidences of abscondment of pilgrims in the holy land.
On the other hand, the Pilgrims Savings Scheme was conceived to help Christians who may not be buoyant enough, especially those in the local churches, actualise their dreams of participating in the holy pilgrimage.
“We do have challenges with the cost of going. I want to be sure that all those challenges are dealt with so that people will travel with ease and in a properly organised manner. We also want to make sure that our ground handlers respect us. People that are going to handle one thing or the other from Israel to the flight and everything.
“Nigerians must be respected because money is involved. It isn’t free. So when the agencies aren’t taken proper responsibility of ensuring a dignified journey to Israel and handling our people with respect, we can terminate their contracts and find those who respect us.
We must look at all those processes and also our people here who are working with people over there. We must follow everything decently and must make sure they are doing the right thing,” he said.
Pam who said the cost of pilgrimage has been reduced to encourage Christians participate in the pilgrimage exercise, admonished church leaders to preach the importance of pilgrimage to their congregation “Pilgrimage is not just a spiritual exercise, it exposes Christians to a new trend of life.
One of the ways Christians can enjoy the dividend of our democracy is through the pilgrimage exercise,” he said.
The NCPC boss during a meeting with the leadership of the Ecumenical Youth Association, said the commission was working towards promoting a higher volume of youths pilgrimage to the Holy land, Israel.
Harping on the benefits such development would bring to Nigeria, he said having more youths travel to Israel on pilgrimage was a great step in exposing the main drivers of the country’s workforce to meaningful opportunities including skills acquisition in Israel.
“The Youth pilgrimage to Israel would help to expose the youths to skill acquisition and other meaningful opportunities that would add value to their lives at the end of their Holy pilgrimage exercise in Israel.
“The Commission would collaborate with the Association in view of its laudable objectives. NCPC would continue to serve as a veritable platform to unite all Christians in Nigeria,” he said.
Pam who stressed that the Commission was in a better stead to unite every one as it takes Christians to Israel where Jesus Christ had his ministry on earth, given its mandate to regulate, supervise and coordinate activities and movement of Christians from Nigeria to Israel and other Holy Sites around the world.
“We don’t just want to travel for pilgrimage’s sake alone. We must look at the aspect of nationhood. How our people would be stakeholders in building the nation. If there is no national development coming from it and there is nothing to learn and inculcate in Nigeria in terms of building nationhood, I think sometimes it would look like just a church exercise. ”
For instance, the issue of crises in some states like the herders-farmers conflicts, you can get a good lesson out of this with your trip. How can I contribute to my country when I come back? You travel there but nobody ever asks you: ‘What are you going to contribute to your country when you get back?’
“Of course, Nigerians would always end it up with telling the people about prayer which is good. But what is the benefit for the country?
Yes, we will go there and pray for the country. But the character that would build the country needs to be built from there which will mean that we have taken a holistic approach to the situation on the ground,” he said.
Pam observed that while the number of christian pilgrims have grown over the years, the number of people who try to apply lessons learnt when they return cannot be easily measured.
He pledged that under his watch, pilgrims will be encouraged to internalise the deeper lessons of the journey to the extent that they will not only pray but take firm resolutions to apply the lessons when they return to Nigeria.