Sunday, 26 May 2013
Rejoinder To Efunbola Coker- A Pilgrimage Is Not A Holiday
My attention has been drawn to a story on an online news site accusing the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC) of cheating a member of the public of the sum of Four Hundred and Six Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Naira (N406,150.00) which was what this member of the public paid to participate in the last pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Israel.
Permit me to say that the state of things painted by the letter published on the site is false and verifiably so and I will now respond to the allegations raised on a point by point basis.
First of all, the amount paid by intending pilgrims came to Four Hundred and Six Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Naira (N406,150.00). This amount was approved by Mr. President after a thorough ascertaining of the cost of the entire package. This amount is subsidized and if the pilgrims were to go on the pilgrimage on their own without support from the Commission, the amount to be paid would be in excess of this.
The monies paid cover air fare ($1600 for a return ticket), accommodation for 10 nights Feeding, Ground Transportation,Tour Guides and fees for visiting the sites ($930).
The amount paid by each pilgrim would not be able to cover all these expenses, nevertheless the Commission ensures that they get all these services rendered to them because it is our mandate.
With reference to the claim by the writer that she was entitled to a four or five star hotel, I would encourage journalists to please visit the Commission's site at http://ncpc.gov.ng to see if such a promise was ever made.
I would also encourage journalists and members of the public to use freely available travel sites such as expedia.com or hotels.com to find out the rates for hotels in the Holy Land. In off seasons, a two/three star goes for an average of about $90 per night. This price shoots up during the pilgrimage season. Four/five star hotels cost on the average $200 per night during the off season. This price also shoots up during the pilgrimage season. When you add the cost of feeding at three meals a day the cost shoots up with prices that could be high or low depending on whether the hotel is a three, four or five star hotel.
I would also encourage journalists and members of the public to google some of the hotels mentioned in the letter. To help, I am providing a link to the first hotel mentioned here (http://www.hotels.com/ho324252/savyonei-hagalil-hotel-galilee-israel/). The intrinsic cost of staying at this hotel is $113 per night as can be seen from the link provided. Thank God for technology. You can actually see pictures of the Savyonei Hagalil online. I leave it to the objective reader to do his own research and judge whether the pictures match the description given in the letter published.
Our liaison in Israel, Raphael Ben-Hur, as rightly mentioned in the letter had previously served with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism for 15 years and has cognate experience in organizing tours and tourists.
Next, the writer complains that the tour plan forced them to visit Bethlehem and that she would have rather not visited Bethlehem because of the conflict in Gaza.
First of all, who would conceive of going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land without visiting Bethlehem, the birth place of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus? What then is the point of the pilgrimage?
Secondly, the participants of the tour where never in any danger as Bethlehem is 73km away from Gaza where the conflict was and they were there with the knowledge of the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
The writer also listed other hotels in which she stayed at in the various cities the tours visited including the Sahara Hotel, Paradise Hotel and Zion Sq. again, I would urge journalists and the general public to visit these hotels via google and judge if they meet the description given by the writer.
The writer says she has visited eighteen (18) nations and therefore had "a very good idea about holiday packages". I would want to appeal to the writer to understand that a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is not a "holiday package". Israel is a unique nation that has risen out of the ashes only about 70 years ago. They have achieved a lot, but there are peculiar circumstances regarding that blessed nation. To compare her to the eighteen nations the writer has visited would be like comparing apples to oranges.
It would have been of great benefit to the writer if she had clarified her expectations of the pilgrimage from the information freely available on the Commission's site rather than the second hand information she listed in her letter.
Let me say that persons who are seeking a holiday may be disappointed if they choose the Holy Land as their destination. A pilgrimage is an event that requires an attitude of self sacrifice and introspection and offers the pilgrim an opportunity to escape from the cares of this world and comforts that a seasoned world traveller may be use to in a "holiday package".
Finally, This is how the dictionary defines the word 'pilgrimage'-A journey to a sacred place or shrine, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance'. As our Lord said, whoever wants to go on a pilgrimage must first "count the cost" before he or she makes the journey.
John Kennedy Opara
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters