Nigerian Pilgrims to the Holy Land make their visits to various sites in groups to enable the body in charge of the organization of the pilgrimage the Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission, NCPC, plan effectively for its various groups that visit the Middle East.
Our Editor was in the FCT group that commenced its official tour of the sites last Thursday, December 14 from their Arafat Hotel in Bethlehem. The contingent had taken their time to rest after much weariness from their almost eight hour flight which commenced on December 12 from Nigeria, compounded by more than two hours of security check in Turkey, where passengers; bags, lap tops, and other belongings , were checked with utmost scrutiny by Turkish officials. By afternoon of June 13, they had arrived Israel safely and were later checked into their hotels.
Their visits took them first to Mount Olives where Jesus Christ met his disciples for the last time on his earthly life and teachings, and it was from here that he ascended into heaven. Before ascending to heaven, He gave the Great Commission, the mandate to his disciples to preach the gospel not only to the Jews but to all nations of the world.
According to the Gospel of Mathew [28:18-20]:, it was here he declared; “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Oshri El-Makias, the Israeli guide assigned to lead the group was quite impressive in his task, displaying deep knowledge of his subjects, and bringing accounts of the past with the present. He told our team “it is believed among the Jews that Mt.Olives will be the first place the Messiah will come at resurrection to bring back the dead to life.”
Mount Olives is seen as one of Christians ‘most revered sites, if not the most important. It is no longer a desolate mountain area as it might have been during the time of Christ’s earthly mission.The area is not only a built up one, but today, a notable church, Chapel of Ascension and Pater Noster stand at the place. A walking distance from there is the Chapel of Dominus Flexi, which is to commemorate Jesus weeping for Jerusalem. There is also St. Stephen Church built by Greek Orthodox Church. The Nigerian group took time to pray for a just and corrupt-free Nigeria in the course of its visit. At the time our group visited Mount Olives, where many tribes and nationalities bought special slates to write the Lord’s Prayer[Our Father who are in heaven…it was amazing to discover that apart from Yoruba, no other Nigerian tribe had been able to register their presence at the holy site. The sites remain beehive of activities in this season of Christmas as pilgrims from countries like Australia, Peru, India, US, Canada, France, Belgium,etc were also at the place to take a look at this all-important site, and to make petition to God. While the rest of the world continue to besiege Israel to see those sites which bring to fore the reality of Christ’s earthly mission, the Jews still have not taken him as their Messiah.
About 300 metres from Mount .Olives is a valley which literally divides West Jerusalem from East Jerusalem. The valley is usually referred to as Prophet Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones, the “dry bones which will rise again.”
DAILY ASSET was informed that because of this prophecy, and the belief that the Messiah will first come to this place at resurrection, it has now become a source of fortune for wealthy Jews and people of other faith who buy portions of land in that area for their burial with the hope that they will be among the first to be brought back to life when the Messiah passes through the place.
Not too far from the valley, about two kilometres in East Jerusalem is situated one of Muslims’ holiest sites, the “holiest of holiest mosque” the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which could be seen from a distance within the Mount of Olives, with its golden colour dome from the other side of the city-West Jerusalem.
Our guide informed DAILY ASSET that the place of worship for the Muslims is guided by Israeli soldiers, whom he said “show great respect to those that come to worship at the place. While they ensure that the security of the place is maintained, they also ensure that they do not violate the sanctity of the place. One thing about the Jews is that they respect Christians and Muslims, who have a lot in common with their religion, Judaism.”
Not too far from the mosque is a site considered to be Solomon’s temple; and at the other side of the West is the tomb of Absalom, King David’s rebellious son, who organized some of his men to even kill his father.
The team also visited the famous Garden of Gethsemane, the Jesus prayed before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Surprisingly the garden has been preserved over time, and some of the olive trees in the garden whose years have been put at more than 2,000 remain preserved.
Our guide informed DAILY ASSET that Gethsemane in Hebrew means “place where olive oil is extracted.” The time of Jesus trial and crucifixion coincided with the Jewish Passover. To keep the memory of Jesus arrest and prayer at the Garden, a church was built at the place by 12 nations of the world. The church is called “Church of all Nations.”
From the Garden, the group proceeded to Mount Zion, one of the reference points in the Bible.
One of the most notable edifices on Mount Zion today is the statue of King David, regarded by the Israelis as one of their greatest prophets, and of course their greatest war general. It is no surprise therefore that among the litany of prophets and figures produced by this great country, King David’s grave is among the few preserved. The Jewish Rabbi keep vigil at his grave side and pray relentlessly 24 hours daily at the grave of this great Biblical figure. “The Jews and even the government of Israel do not joke with keeping alive the memory of King David. The government sponsors their prayer-warriors are kept busy, praying for their most revered king. His tomb is one of the most idolized by the Israelis and the rest of the world, for giving us the Psalms and for being the country’s greatest leader and fighter ever.”
According to our guide, King David, like most other kings o Israel was buried with gold, diamond and other ornaments.
Just within King David’s grave is the Upper Room, which DAILY ASSET gathered played two important roles in the advent of Christianity. The Upper Room, within Mount Zion is said to be where Jesus Christ had his last supper with his disciples, where he gave the mandate for the Holy Communion being followed by Christians today. The Upper Room is also believed to be where the Apostles and Disciples of Jesus locked themselves after his ascending to heaven before the Holy Ghost descended on them at Pentecost.
Day three: Visit to Church of Nativity
Before the group’s visit to the Church of Nativity, it rose early in the morning to first visit the Shepard’s Field where the Angel of God announced the birth of the Saviour. The Shepard’s Field , during our group’s field remains a big expanse of land, of an equivalent of three football fields, which has been preserved over time. Incidentally the area is surrounded by high rise buildings that greatly don today’s Bethlehem. By the Shepard Field, we could see Jericho, considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world , in Lebanon from a distance. From there the group proceeded to Bethlehem for the Church of Nativity.
The Church of Nativity, regarded as the oldest church in the world is situated 10 kms south of Jerusalem on the site identified by Christian tradition as the birthplace of Jesus since the second century. The place both marks the beginnings of Christianity and is one of the holiest spots in Christendom. Since early medieval times the Church has been increasingly incorporated into a complex of other ecclesiastical buildings, mainly monastic. As a result, today it is embedded in an extraordinary architectural ensemble, overseen by members of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Church, under the provisions of the Status Quo of the Holy Places established by the Treaty of Berlin (1878). By the church of Nativity is a Church named after St. Jerome. Inside the Church is spot where the manger in which baby Jesus was laid, and the possible spot where the star that led the three wise men stood.