Pilgrimage to holy sites presents significant economic and spiritual advantages, says Rev. Fr. Gilbert Alaribe, the current Chairman of Imo State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board.
In this interview with our reporter in Amman, the capital city of Jordan, Fr Alaribe, the Chaplain of Government House Chapel, Owerri, speaks on the benefits of the spiritual exercise in the life of every Christian.
The cleric pointed out that corruption is the major challenge preventing pilgrimage exercise from thriving in the Southeastern part of Nigeria, and expressed optimism that it would be nipped in the bud.
Speaking about the sponsorship of 1,000 Imo State citizens for 2023 pilgrimage to Jordan and Israel by the state government led by Sen Hope Uzodimma, Alaribe averred that it has the benefits of not only making the beneficiaries better citizens and good ambassadors of the state, but will also help in efforts to transform the state for the general good of all Imolites.
According to him, the effects of the Christian adventure will also help to open up socio-economic opportunities for the good of the state cum attract the desired development in the state through already established healthy partnerships with foreign contacts and companies particularly from Jordan and Israel.
Here is the Excerpts:
How will you describe the 2023 Christian pilgrim exercise being sponsored by the state government so far?
The exercise has been, for me personally, a huge success. We didn’t have too much time to pull through a seamless pilgrimage exercise beginning with the screening. I mean from the time we received our appointment letters to the time of screening and the eventual movement of the first batch. It was less than a month. But we were able to pull through. All thanks to the level of support we got from the governor of Imo State, His Excellency, Governor Hope Uzodinma, CON. All thanks to support and help we got from the screening team from the NCPC, Abuja. So we had very little sleep. But here we are, after most of the batches have gone, remaining about 71 to be paired with the Bauchi contingents later on in June. So from here, we can look back and say we are so grateful that we have had no abscondment; we have had no health emergency, at least that we couldn’t deal with and that we have had Imolites of all shapes and Colours, from the very young to the very old. I think our oldest pilgrim so far is 86 old. So we have been able to pull through. There were those who came on the wheelchair and went back, able to walk again. There were those on walking sticks who were determined to make the experience full time and those, through the generosity of their fellow pilgrims, were able to make a satisfying pilgrimage experience. So, from here we can look back and express our thanks to God in the first place; to those who have supported us and our thanks to every pilgrims from Imo State. They have been very exemplary pilgrims.
So what do you think is the impact of this exercise in the lives of Imo citizens particularly on the participants; given the fact that some people down home think it is a waste of the state’s resources?
Initially, there was skepticism on the part of Imolites. You know the usual skepticism we express when it comes to things about government. So we had to deal with that skepticism initially. By the time the first Imo pilgrims were airlifted to Jordan and Israel, and they started sending their pictures and narrating their experiences, excitement in Imo State became uncontrollable. From this moment we can say that we have found it more difficult to deal with that excitement than to deal with the skepticism. And what can accrue from Imo State from the whole pilgrimage exercise, we leave our judgment. But if I see the excitement on the faces of the pilgrims, I can say, yes, something has happened to them in their lives, from the level of their joy and the level of excitement. Also, when the second batch came, we met with the Nigerian Ambassador to Israel, we had very fruitful discussions over several areas of co-operations between Israel and Imo State and if those areas identified, are followed up and worked on, we believe that Imo State will be better off. There are many projects in Imo State that were established during Governor Sam Mbakwe administration by the Israeli companies within the course of the year have gone moribund, when we bring the attention of the Governor to some of these projects and reconnect to necessary companies and agencies, we believe that even the effects on the economy of Imo State will be felt in no distance time. And, then coupled with the fact that where in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, God needed only ten righteous people to save an entire city. Then you can imagine what can happen in Imo State when we have a thousand intercessors for Imo State; where we have a thousand people that will be touched in their very substance and from that encounter with God, they go back home and become better family fathers; a better family mothers; they become better staff of government agencies and private companies, we believe that the effect will be felt for the entire society in Imo State.
Aside from building their faith and praying for a better Imo and human society at large, what other expectations or advice do you have for the pilgrims especially current contingents?
You know when those who have already gone begin to tell their stories and I am sure they are telling their stories about their identities as Christians and they are telling their stories in the sense that the things written in the Bible are no longer fictitious stories but stories of real events that happened. So these pilgrims have become eyewitnesses and by the time they tell their stories to others, from telling of these stories, the lives of not only theirs but of those around them are transformed. Then we can expect Imo State to be far better. We have picked pilgrims from all segments of Imo society. Indeed, eighty percent of those among these pilgrims were picked from rural areas. So we believe that very soon, our people will begin to feel the effects of this spiritual exercise. And in a year time or so, we will be able to go back and ask, “What has changed in Imo State?” So, something is already changing now and we can expect more to change in the course of time as a result of this exercise. And for those who could look at the figures of the amount spent by the state government, I will rather tell them to look at those figures and applaud His Excellency’s generosity because in this pilgrimage exercise, Imolites have been treated as royalties. The Governor hasn’t stopped pulling the plugs in terms of the hotel accommodation; the airlifting and the kind of services the aircraft provided to Imolites. So in essence, every pilgrim here has lived through the generosity of the governor. So our expectation is that they will reciprocate to that generosity with a lot of gratitude to God and a lot of support also to the noble and impactful policies being implemented by the current government of Imo State.
What do you think was the motivating factor to why the Governor decided to invest in this exercise?
The last time that Imolites went on pilgrimage to the holy land, it is almost ten years ago but every year we continue to hear about the Jihad exercise by our Muslim brothers and the states in the north and beyond have continued to sponsor this exercise. We believe that this is a spiritual exercise that can transform the individual and a transformed individual is a transformative agent for the society he or she lives in. So, we are happy that this is happening now and this was confirmed by the NCPC staff that spoke to the 3rd batch few days ago at the Port-Harcourt International Airport. We are happy that His Excellency, the governor of Imo State is making Imolites feel the effects of the activities of the government in the other states of the federation; the effects on Nigerians who belong to the other faith who are encouraged to go for Hajj, who come back as Alhajis and Alhajas and the effects in their various communities and their leadership roles in the various ministries and aspects of life in the society, we can go back and measure. You know, development is not just measured by the material index, I think by the time you touch the citizens of the state positively, you are driving development.
From what you have said so far, there is no reason for one to say that the exercise is a complete waste of the menial state resources given the gains on the lives of the beneficiaries and to the state?
It is never a waste. How can it be a waste of resources? What has happened to Imo State in the last ten years when no pilgrimage was embarked on? Some people are saying that the resources could have been channeled to more benefiting developmental projects in the state.
What have governments before now been doing? They have not been spending on the citizens? And then Imo is what it is. We can only applaud the leadership role and the generosity of the current administration under His Excellency, Hope Uzodimma and this was a thing he planned. I mean this was not just a decision that happened accidentally. No. He planned this and he made provisions for it. If you go to Imo State at the moment, roads are still being built and development is still being driven. So this is only one aspect of the developmental policies of the Governor and we don’t underrate the spiritual transformation of individuals when they belong to a society when they are transformed spiritually, the effects on various aspects of material lives are also transformed.
What advice do you have for other states across the country regarding exploring the gains of Christian pilgrimage for the general good of their citizens and states?
We encouraged His Excellency, Sen Hope Uzodimma on this and we look forward to him continuing to make Imo citizens happy by continuing the exercise next year. So we are looking forward to his reelection by November. Also, we are looking forward that before the end of his second tenure, we expect more and more Imolites would have come here to experience the practical part of their faith. They will see the areas our ancestors in faith lived, moved and made impacts. They will see the areas where our saviour, Jesus lived, preached and performed miracles. And they being impacted concretely, they will be able to go back and live out what their faith expects them to be. And by living out what their faith expects them to be, they will also be able to transform the material lives of Imo society. So we expect a lot of transformative changes driven by not only the various agencies of society and government but also by individuals who are part of the Imo society.
Aside from government sponsorship, what advice do you have for individuals and religious bodies concerning embarking on pilgrimages?
We expect that after this current exercise of government sponsorship, we will be able to go into the other areas of self-sponsorships. Unfortunately, the pilgrimage exercise has been an area where corruption has not allowed exercise in the southeast to really thrive as it is thriving in the other areas. Pastor Adeboye we heard sponsored about 2,000 of his faithful to the holy land this year. So we believe that individuals and agencies of government both at the Federal and state levels can also engage in pilgrimage exercises through self and agencies sponsorship. So that the board will now turn to these other areas of self-sponsorship by the time we get back. I don’t know why His Excellency gave me this position but we hope to root out some of the corrupt practices that have bedeviled the pilgrimage exercise prior to our appointment in the South East.
Finally, what areas of prayers do you advise this current Imo contingent to offer while in the holy land here given the socio-economic challenges back home?
Ever since the first batch of pilgrims came to the holy land, our pilgrims have been praying for peace in Imo State. They have been praying for the administration of His Excellency; for sound health; for spiritual empowerment and for God to use the various agencies of government and the society to transform our state. We have also heard that for state like Ebonyi has benefited Immensely from the partnership with the government of Israel. We have also heard that state like Delta has benefited immensely from the cooperative agricultural models practiced in Israel. So the pilgrimage exercise has definitely its spiritual benefits but we will want the exercise in Imo State to go beyond spiritual benefits to also impact positively on the material lives of our people. Our people have come here and they have been outstanding by the level of organization in areas of tourism and what that can do on the income of the state. Basically, we must pray for peace in Imo State because if we have peace, other benefits will come. We can reorganize our tourism industry; we can reorganize our agriculture and we can rehabilitate a lot of moribund companies in Imo State through the partnership with the relevant agencies in Israel and this will add up to the benefits that can come to Imo State apart from the spiritual benefits. Thank you.
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