Nigerian Christian pilgrims come to Rome

2012-04-26 Vatican Radio

The Christian Pilgrimage tour operator Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP) of the Rome Vicariate has teamed up with Nigeria’s Christian Pilgrim Commission and Italian authorities to bring thousands of Christians from the West African nation to the Eternal City.

ORP organizes not only tours of the Vatican and Christian sites in Rome but pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and to Marian and other shrines across the Middle East and Europe, and tours following the trails of missionaries to the Far East.

With the aim of promoting understanding and peace between people of different cultures, the pilgrimages are geared to deepening pilgrims’ knowledge about the roots of their Christian heritage while offering spiritually uplifting moments for prayer and reflection.

The Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission was set up in 2007 as a governmental agency to organize and facilitate the movement of Christian pilgrims from Nigeria to holy sites around the world.

Executive Secretary of the Commission, John Kennedy Opara told Vatican Radio his office tries to ensure the safety of Nigerian pilgrims from the moment they leave their country to the day they return home.

In a press release hailing the agreement, ORP stated that “every year the Nigerian government encourages and gives economic support to its citizens on the pilgrimage because religion teaches man to live with the objective of pursuing the common good and this constitutes the basis of every democracy.”

“Everything about our pilgrimage comes from the bible,” Mr. Kennedy says. He recalls that St. Paul was a Jew who “did all he could in Jerusalem and moved on to Greece…and finally ended up in Rome. This was where he was beheaded. And for us Christians, that’s a complete circle.”

The Commission, which has been offering pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Greece, decided to add the Eternal City because “our pilgrimage would be incomplete without ending it up in Rome.”

Mr. Kennedy sees the pilgrimages as an ecumenical instrument bringing Christians from a wide range of churches together. Coming to Rome are Nigerian Christians from the Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Presbyterian and other churches.

“And it’s been quite exciting – people are willing, they are excited to come to Rome and not only that, they will be privileged to even have the papal audience where we will see the Pope. So for us, it’s the completion of a circle.”

Mr. Kennedy explains that some 4,000-5,000 Nigerian pilgrims have already been to Rome as part of the program and more will be going in upcoming months. A similar governmental pilgrimage commission also caters to Muslims wishing to see Islamic holy sites.

Mr. Kennedy clearly feels that religious pilgrimages strengthen the spiritual and social values of all those who go on them – something he sees as key with tensions high between the different faiths in some parts of the country.

“We want to make our country a peaceful country. We want to make Nigeria a morally sound nation that people will be proud of.”

“Indira Ghandi once said ‘I respect Christ but the problem I have with Christians is that they’re not Christ-like.’ So my message is that people should be Christ-like. Before we go on pilgrimage we may have lived (one kind) of life… but when we visit these holy sites and see that Jesus actually walked here, it brings a message to you and you’re now moved to say ‘why don’t I do this?’ and you ask for grace.”

Listen to this interview by Emer McCarthy with Mr. Kennedy :