First batch of Christian pilgrims from Andhra leaves for Jerusalem

November 25th, 2008 - 1:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad, Nov 25 (IANS) The first batch of 51 Christian pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh left for Jerusalem Tuesday under the state government’s scheme to help Christians visit places connected with the life of Jesus Christ.The pilgrims left for Bahrain by Gulf Air flight early Tuesday for their onward journey to Jordan.

The state government is providing a subsidy of Rs.20,000 to each pilgrim for the seven-day tour, which covers Jordan and Israel. The pilgrimage including food, accommodation and transport costs Rs.56,000 but with the government providing the subsidy, each pilgrim will have to pay Rs.36,000 for the tour-package.

The pilgrimage includes visit to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jordan River, Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee and other important places connected with the life of Jesus Christ.

The state government, which announced the scheme last year, plans to send 900 to 1,000 pilgrims this year and has allocated Rs.20 million for the purpose in 2008-09 budget.

Addressing a function Monday to mark the departure of the first batch, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy said the pilgrims would be sent in batches till the budget for this year is exhausted.

Hoping that the pilgrims would return from Jerusalem with the blessings of Christ, the chief minister said the plan to extend the subsidised tour next year would depend on this year’s experience.

He said the government introduced the scheme as it recognised the right of people to freedom of religion.

“The Christians had been requesting the government to sponsor their visit to Jerusalem for last 10 years but their wish has been fulfilled only now,” Archbishop of Hyderabad Marampudi Joji said.

The state minorities finance corporation, which is organising the packaged tour, said preference was given to physically fit pilgrims of over 50 years of age and couples who can support each other during the tour.

According to 2001 census, there are about 1.2 million Christians in the state, representing 1.55 percent of the state’s population.

The state government has already decided to create a separate department in the minorities welfare ministry for Christians and also constitute a separate minority finance corporation for them.

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