The Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC) has said that it airlifted about 20,000 Nigerian Christians who variously participated in the annual Easter and Christmas pilgrimage exercises in year 2012.
NCPC said Saturday in Abuja that of the total number of Christians that were part of the annual spiritual exercise in 2012, both government and self-sponsored, no one of them absconded from the countries visited and that its final reconciliation record indicates that the Federal Government does not owe any agency for services rendered in the process.
Executive Secretary of NCPC, Mr. John Kennedy Opara, told reporters at a briefing on the activities of the commission in the past year as well as its preparations for the 2013 Easter pilgrimage to Rome that it has rectified obvious loopholes in the last exercise and was prepared to airlift about 3,000 pilgrims to Rome for Easter.
Kennedy explained that a total of 2,650 pilgrims from 10 States of the federation who could not make it to the last exercise in 2012, owing to the effects of sudden deluge which had ravaged some of these States, have been confirmed to be part of the Easter exercise, thus, leaving out the remaining slots for new interests.
He disclosed that apart from the flood in Nigeria, security challenges in the Middle East also affected the operations of the commission last year while the death of a pilgrim from Adamawa State was recorded in the process.
"Last year was very unique because for the first time, the flood affected our operation; most states where unable to pay and in fact most of those states are going to form the bulk of pilgrims that we are going to carry from February to March as part of the Easter pilgrimage package and as at that time the flood covered most of these states and so the Christians that would have loved to be on pilgrimage were unable to go.
"We also had security challenges, especially in the area of Israel and Palestine because it was in the thick of the war between the Palestinian and Israel authorities but God saw us through and we did not record anybody absconding and it is by the mercy of God that we were able to carry this large number of people and back again. Sad enough, we lost a pilgrim from Adamawa but his case was that of a person who had prayed to die in the holy land and we are grateful to God for the zero mortality rate we had," Opara said.
He stated that the Commission has submitted its report to the Federal Government through the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), adding: "We are also happy to say that we have gone ahead to do our normal reconciliation with all the ground handlers and aircraft that carried the pilgrims and it is nice to say that the Federal Government is not owing anybody as far as the 2012 pilgrimage exercise is concerned."
Speaking on the rationale for such pilgrimage exercise, Opara said: "If we are able to get about 30,000 Nigerians every year to be spiritually and morally transformed through such pilgrimage exercises where they encounter our Lord Jesus Christ and if everyone of them is able to affect up to 20 Nigerians, the multiple effect of that will be that in the next few years, we will have people to pursue to keep peace where there are people who do not want peace.
"Our pilgrimage is not tourism or a kind of a journey of comfort but an opportunity for people to submit and have a divine encounter with the lord because such visits remind us that there is nothing permanent in this life but God."