From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC) has assured Nigerians of hitch-free pilgrimage exercise/experience starting with Easter Pilgrimage exercise.

The reassurance was, perhaps, due to fears and concerns of pilgrims regarding the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and other safety concerns.

The Commission also assured Nigerians that the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas (Gaza), did not touch holy sites that would be visited as part of the pilgrimage exercise.

Executive Secretary, NCPC, Bishop Stephen Adegbite, told journalists at a press conference in Abuja, on Wednesday, that Israeli authorities have given their assurance of safety of Nigerians during the exercise.

Bishop Adegbite, however, announced that certain changes have been made regarding the pilgrimage exercise, particularly as it concerns the number of pilgrimage exercises within a year, as well as number of days spent.

He said: “We have decided to return the number of days spent to 10. This was what it was until few years ago when it was changed to 8 or 9, inclusive of departure and arrival days. Even our service providers have accepted and supported that decision stating that it’s better that way.

“Similarly, we have also reduced the number of pilgrimage exercises we organize in a year. We have now decided that the pilgrimage exercises would be twice in a year, Easter pilgrimage that holds earlier in the year and the normal one in November.

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“We are accepting application for Easter pilgrimage exercise, and the portal will close by July. Similarly, the application for main pilgrimage will open in November, and will run till February, 2025. That’s the system we have adopted, and every one attending should know that the exercise will terminate in Jerusalem in Israel aside other experiences.”

He, however, called for an end to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas (Gaza), stating that the war has led to the lost of many lives, and had also displaced many, as well as properties that have been destroyed.

The NCPC boss, confirmed that he has met with Israeli officials in Nigeria regarding the safety of pilgrims in the forthcoming exercise, and assurances of safety and security were secured from the officials.

Meanwhile, the Israel Ministry of Tourism, in a message to NCPC assured that tourism in Israel is getting back to normal after the events of October 7th, 2024, in the Gaza.

Deputy Director General and Head of the Marketing Administration, Mr. Pini Shani, who signed the message reassured intending pilgrims of their safety and security, stating that security/safety of tourists is a top priority for the government.

“Israel is careful about the security of tourists and citizens alike. All of the tourist areas are completely safe. Jerusalem, Tiberias and the Galilee, the Negev, the Dead Sea, Eilat are operating as usual.

“We hope you can come and join us in demonstrating that tourism industry is a real bridge between people and serves as a road to peace,” he said in the statement.