Following Israeli government’s closure of the border to pilgrims as a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic, the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC), resorted to the Kingdom of Jordan as an alternative for Nigerian Christians to visit and offer prayers at biblical sites in the Holy Land.
In the history of Nigeria’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Israel had been the first choice ahead of other countries like Egypt, Rome and Jordan, but NCPC had to make proper arrangements for the 2020 pilgrims to perform their pilgrimage in Jordan.
The modern day Jordan has been the site of significant events in the history of Christianity, spanning across centuries throughout the New and Old testaments.
Because of this religious significance, some sites all around Jordan have been designated as pilgrimage sites and have been visited by Pope John Paul Vl, Pope John Benedict XVI and Pope Francis within the past half century.
Also Jordan as a land dedicated to religious coexistence has maintained religious sites for the use of pilgrims from all around the world. When Pope John Paul II visited Jordan during his Jubilee pilgrimage in 2000, he said: “Today I am in Jordan, a land familiar to me from the Holy Scriptures, a land sanctified by the presence of Jesus himself, Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist and Saints of martyrs of the early Church. Yours is a land noted for its hospitality and openness to all”.
Sunday Telegraph’s findings from the record of the NCPC showed that over 2,500 pilgrims are performing the Jordan pilgrimage with Plateau State having 600, the highest number.
The 2020 pilgrimage has the theme: “Peace and Development” with a focus on Biblical historical sites as well as praying for the peace of Nigeria.
The Executive Secretary, NCPC, Rev. (Dr.) Yakubu Pam, had assured pilgrims of adequate comfort and safety in the Kingdom of Jordan. Speaking to Sunday Telegraph in Amman, Jordan, the NCPC boss said that besides the Scriptural importance, the purpose of the pilgrimage is to pray for Nigeria.
“The pilgrimage in Jordan is an opportunity for Christians to pray for the unity of the church and we believe that this will make the church stronger.
There is going to be tremendous testimony after this pilgrimage because we are here to pray for the unity of Nigeria and the church”, he said.
He commended the Jordanian government for their coordination and warm reception given to the pilgrims, who arrived in Jordan on July 25, 2021.
He said: “I must say that I am overwhelmed with the presidential treatment we received during the brief and colorful airport reception in Amman,” even the Jordanian Minister of Tourism, Nayef Al Fayez described the visit as of “paramount importance.”
Similarly, the President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and Leader of the Nigeria pilgrims to Jordan, Rev. (Dr.) Samson Ayokunle, said that apart from the spiritual transformation of Nigerian pilgrims in Jordan, their main focus has been praying fervently for Nigeria to overcome insecurity challenges such kidnapping, banditry and Boko Haram.
He said since the first batch of the pilgrims arrived in Jordan on Sunday, they have been praying and crying to God to end the incessant insecurity challenges in Nigeria.
Speaking with journalists in Amman, the capital of Jordan on his assessment of the pilgrimage, the CAN President said: “What Christians and pilgrims are doing now in Jordan is praying for Nigeria to overcome banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram and other challenges, because Nigeria has never faced this kind of serious challenges in the past like now; we have a bad situation where students cannot go to school again.
Even those in school are being kidnapped daily, leaving their parents at the mercy of God to pay ransom, and government has not taken any serious step”. He said that the pilgrims have also been praying for school children that were kidnapped, especially the Baptist School students in Kaduna State, who are still in captivity.
Ayokunle described Nigeria as a country where nobody is safe, saying insecurity all over the country, and it started like a religious war, and it has become a serious threat to the unity of the country.
He said the government must rise to its responsibility of protecting its citizens against the enemies of the land.
“We are here in the Holy Land, praying fervently for God to give our leaders wisdom and for the country to overcome its challenges.”
Ayokunle added that the pilgrimage to Jordan is a miracle because the pilgrimage was supposed to take place in 2020 in Israel, not Jordan and is now being held in 2021 due to COVID-19. He commended the effort of the NCPC Executive Secretary, Rev. Yakubu Pam, for taking the bold step of creativity and initiative in the midst of the third wave of COVID-19 to ensure the exercise worked. He said in Bible history, Jordan is connected with Israel.
“I want to salute NCPC under Rev. Pam for addressing this matter. Israel is the main Christian site for Nigerian today but is still closed down to COVID-19. Jordan has Biblical records as well as other places yet to be discovered. We are now exploring all the places that have Biblical history in Jordan while praying for the peace of Nigeria”.
Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary, Plateau Christian Pilgrims Board, Rev. Fr. George Gorap, who expressed happiness on the pilgrimage to Jordan, described the airlifting of pilgrims from the state as “historic” because it is the first time. According to him, the initiative would be a catalyst for development, adding that it would also boost the economic activities in the state.
Meanwhile, the first batch of the pilgrims have continued to visit the Biblical sites like Gédara, which is connected with one of the miracles of Jesus referred to as casting of the demons or the Gadarean swine found in Matthew (8:28-34). Another site visited by the pilgrims is Pella, one of the most ancient sites in Jordan and a favourite of archaeologists being exceptionally rich in antiquities.
The pilgrims in Jordan also had the opportunity of being guided to different locations by an Israeli Christian Travel Agency, Tabar Tours, located in Nazareth in Galilee which specialises in Holy Land pilgrimage.
They took the pilgrims to the Zarga River, identified with the biblical River Labbok, where Jacob crossed the Jabbok on his way to Canaan, after leaving Harran.
The river is first mentioned in the book of Genesis in connection with the meeting of Jacob and Esau, and with the struggle of Jacob with the angel, where he wrestled with the angel.
Another point of visitation as mentioned in the Bible is Mukawir (Machaerus), the hilltop stronghold of Herod the great.
It was at the hilltop fortified palace, overlooking the Dead Sea region and the distant hills of Palestine and Israel that Herod imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist after Salome’s fateful dance Matthew (14:3-11).
However, the pilgrims also visited the Hisbon, widely identified with one of the cities of the plain, Heshbon, due to similarity of their names (Numbers 21:26). Formerly ruled by the Amorite king, Sihon, this region of central Jordan was referenced in the song of (Solomon 7:5).
“Your eyes are like pools in Hashnon”. Investigation by Sunday Telegraph showed that in the Roman Byzantine period, Hisban, also called Esbus, was an important station on early Christian pilgrims’ route from Jerusalem to Mount Nebo via the Jordan River.
Another strategic and historical part of Jordan, where the pilgrims visited is the Madaba, which dates back from the middle Bronze age.
The town of Madaba was once a Moabite border city mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9. It is well recorded that during the rule by Roman and Byzantine empires from the second to the seventh centuries, the city formed part of the provincial Arabia set up by the Roman Emperor, Trajan, to replace the Nabataean Kingdom of Petra.
And the first evidence for a Christian community in the city with its own bishop is found in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where Constantine, Metropolitan Archbishop of Bostra (provincial capital) signed on behalf of Gaiano, the bishop of the Medabeni.
Worthy of mention is the first Mosaics were discovered during the building of new houses using bricks from older buildings.
The Nigerian pilgrims also visited northern part of the city, which has the Church of the Virgin Mary, the Church of the Prophet Elijah with its crypt, the Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-khadir), the burnt palace the church of the Sunna family and the church of the Salaita family.
The pilgrims on a separate day also drove to Mount Nebo and wondered at the point where Moses looked across to the Promise Land and later died and was buried. According to the final chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses ascended Mount Nebo to view the land of Canaan, which God had said he would not enter. He died in Moab.
According to Jewish tradition, Moses was buried on the mountain, although his place of burial is not specified. The pilgrims further visited Bethany beyond the Jordan, the traditional site of Jesus’ Baptism.
It was recorded that Jesus left Nazareth, until he reached Bethany beyond the Jordan and went to John for Baptism. Jesus joined in the line of penitents asking for baptism. Yet, he was pure, free from all sin.
Dr. Yakubu Pam expressed his gratitude to the Jordanian authority for the warm reception accorded to the pilgrims since arrival at the Queen Alia International Airport Amman. “Your reception has made our pilgrims to feel at home, thereby making our job seamless. Indeed, the red carpet reception at the airport showed the hospitable nature of Jordanians and this will forever be appreciated.
“It may interest the Jordanian authorities to know that we have found numerous significant holy sites here and we promise to take the news back home in anticipation of a sustained pilgrimage exercise in the Kingdom of Jordan.
“We also look forward to a constructive and more sustainable relationship that will lead to increased development in the two countries.
As the saying iron sharpens iron goes, we intend to leverage on this new relationship in the areas of tourism, agriculture and information technology to impart the teeming Youth in Nigeria.
For this, we anticipate your cooperation. “On behalf of the Nigerian government, we appreciate the Jordanian government for opening their borders to us at this perilous time. We promise not to betray your trust. I must also commend the Jordanian authority for a well-organised COVID-19 protocol.
It was so seamlessly organised and less time consuming. I also want to thank the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan for making Jordan a home away from home for us”.
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