By Evelyn Okakwu
Pilgrimage has often times been regarded as having a pictorial characteristic with the very essence of live which is a journey back to the author of creation.
Often times, life has been described as the journey to eternity; the only means of returning to God at the end of time.
Therefore, when people embark on a spiritual exodus for the sole aim of acquainting themselves with the account of creation; the closeness to God; as explained by pilgrims is to feel a pinch of what the life beyond, holds for all men.
Over 2000 years since the coming of Christ, Christians have continued to troop in and out of the land of Israel, popularly regarded as the home town of the bible, to catch a glimpse of the presence of Jesus, on earth.
Israel is regarded as the home of the bible because it embodies the geographical location where a majority of the significant events characterising the presence of God had taken place among men.
From the time of the Old Testament when the battle for supremacy began among the kings of Israel and their neighboring towns, the promised land of the bible had recorded significant accounts of God’s divine interventions, on their behalf; to prove to them that he, (God) was almighty and that he would never forsake his chosen people.
A significant example was the account of the battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, recorded in the Boible, in the 1st book of Kings Chapter 24; where Elijah called down fire, from heaven to prove to the prophets of Baal and their leader queen Elizabeth that they were serving a false God.
This took place at Mount Carmel where God answered the prayers of his prophet Elijah and destroyed the prophets of Baal to prove to Queen Jezebel that he was the Almighty. “Shortly after fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, altar and even the water, prepared by Elijah, he had the prophets of Baal slaughtered at the Brook Kishon”.
At this site, the statue of Elijah is erected, while slaying the prophets of Baal to commemorate the historic event for all ages.
Also the coming of Christ; his birth, suffering and death which all took place at about the same country; are significant traces to historic sites attractive, even to none Christians across the world.
The various sites and the structures depicting the events have further enhanced the beauty, not only of tourism, to Israel, but also of prayers in a place symbolic of the presence of God the son on earth.
The upper room; for instance where Jesus had appeared to his disciples and the blessed virgin Mary, still holds its characteristic features of the decent of the Holy Spirit; as pilgrims took turns conceding to the touch of the God, during prayers at the building commemorating the venue of the Pentecost on earth.
Also the place of the visitation which bears the statue of the blessed virgin Mary and that of her Aunt; Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant at the time of the visit was experienced with significant interest by most pilgrims who confessed to not knowing much about the song of the blessed virgin recorded in the book of Luke 1, 42-55 where she sang shortly after the visit of the angel Gabriel.
According to a pilgrim, who preferred anonymity; “My experience hear is very significant because prior to this time I never knew that Mary had a place where she said something like what is recorded on this wall in the bible, but I knew about her visit to Elisabeth shortly after the visit by Angel Gabriel to her”.
Indeed that visit which signifies the annunciation of Christ’s coming to this world was not without a commemorating church which is today called the cathedral church of annunciation.
According to history, the Basilica of annunciation was built at the very spot where Jesus was conceived, after the visit by angel Gabriel.
“The current church is a two-story building constructed in 1969 over the site of an earlier Byzantine-era and then Crusader-era church.
Inside, the lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed to be the remains of the original childhood home of Mary”.
“Under Roman Catholic canon law, the church enjoys the status of a minor basilica. A historically significant site, considered sacred within some circles of Christianity, particularly Catholicism, and the basilica attracts many Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox Christian visitors every year”.
“The first shrine was built sometime in the middle of the 4th century, comprising an altar in the cave in which Mary had lived. A larger structure was commissioned by Emperor Constantine I, who had directed his mother, Saint Helena, to found churches commemorating important events in Jesus Christ’s life. The Church of the Annunciation was founded around the same time as the Church of the Nativity (the birthplace) and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the tomb)”.
Images of the angel Gabriel informing the virgin about the plan of God, as well as that of the that of the fall of Adam and eve, which necessitated the intervention of a messiah and the gruesome killing by king Herod upon discovering that a greater king had been born, were all carved on the door leading into the cathedral church of annunciation.
Inside; aesthetic features of the building were enhanced with various pictures of Mary, dressed in attires, commemorating the cultures of the countries whose funds were jointly used in completing the building.
The Holy sepulcher; where Jesus was laid, after his death had also another great attribute signifying the divine plan to redeem the world through his son Jesus Christ.
Built at the place, described as the center of the world; where a historic opening is made, somewhere on the roof of the building. Every 29th of July, the opening, which is like a small door is made to permit sunlight radiation down the sepulcher from heaven above.
Similarly, the place of the crucifix designed with various religious ornaments created the necessary spiritual atmosphere of a place where the messiah gave his life for the redemption of mankind.
As explained by Mrs Rahila Danjuma; “The most touching site for me is the place where Jesus died. I am a mother and I know it’s very hard to see your child even sick; let alone watching him die without been able to do anything. So for me this place where Jesus died and his mother had to carry his dead body in her hand made me feel really touched”.
“I know it must have been hard for her, despite the fact that it was the plan of God; only God can explain the pains of a mother at the loss of her own child”. “Also the simplicity of the manner with which Christ took everything comes to mind. Although he was so hurt that it felt like he was all alone, yet he summited; he remained obedient till the very end. To think that on this very place, Christ gave up his spirit so that we will have the spirit of him who came to give us life, makes me the impact of the suffering of Christ and reminds me of the need to do what is necessary to make the sacrifice of Christ worth it”.
She says she has always prayed to God for the visit and sees it as the fulfillment of a live long dream “This visit to the holy land is a dream come true as the biblical account of the account of creation and redemption now seems more real than I have always known. I have always prayed that God will give me the privilege of making it to this precious land. And I am sure that I have been touched because of the many places I have been to”.
Other sites worthy of note were the Gethsemane garden where Jesus had prayed and sweated blood before the great tribulation, (Mathew 26, 36-56). In this garden is a tree, known to have existed, probably during the time of Jesus. History has it that from the time when its life span became a subject of documented evidence till date, over 1, 400 years had passed. Since the tree had existed long before that time, it is consequently concluded that the tree may have been part of those in the garden, when Jesus Christ prayed there 2000 years ago.
Furthermore, the last original jug recovered during the archeological excavation of the wedding church in Cana is another site that boosted the hope of many praying for miracles in the marital lives. People took turns to pray for their desires in marriage and even gave donations, booking for special prayers for same.
Speaking during the earlier preparations for the pilgrimage, the Executive Secretary John Kennedy Opara of the commission had stated that; “This year’s pilgrimage is particularly important because it is the eve of our election year when pilgrims will go and pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as well that of Nigeria and above all to pray that God will keep us as one”.
Consequently; a day with Jesus was set aside for every batch of this year’s pilgrimage to Israel to pray for the coming election season and indeed for the future of Nigeria.
As expressed by the Nigerians, it is the hope of all, that as we continue the earthly strive for righteousness, that the God of goodness wil rekindle his light in the hearts of all Nigerians.