State government of Hyderabad is finalising the guidelines to the Holy Land Yatra to Israel for Christians on the lines of Haj pilgrimage. Only white card holders are to be made eligible under the scheme for which government earlier gave the nod for financial assistance. The Minorities Welfare Department will be soon coming out with the guidelines after consultation with AP Federation of Churches, sources said. Christians holding white cards will be given preference on first come first serve basis and those who are above 50 years will be given financial assistance.
Church authorities and lay groups have asked the government to sanction Rs 20,000 to each pilgrim at par with Haj Pilgrims. As per the schedule the pilgrimage covers Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jordan River, places around dead sea and Sea of Galilee and several other places connected to Christian faith. A group of 50 to 100 pilgrims will be visiting the Holy Land.
?Mainly the tour is for a week and charges would be around Rs 55,000 to Rs 65,000 depending on accommodation and facilities provided by travel agent. It is proposed to limit the period to five days in Israel excluding the travel to reduce the cost to Rs 45,000 in which government will bear Rs 20,000 and the rest will be borne by the pilgrims,? Fr T Anthony Raj, Executive Secretary of AP Federation of Churches, said.
The state government already sanctioned Rs 2 crore and at least 1,000 pilgrims will be benefited. Advisor to the Government and former South Central Railway, GM Shri T. Stanley Babu, is also part of the team finalising the guidelines.
An official of Minorities Welfare Department said ?The pilgrim shall produced SSC certificate which shows that he is a Christian. Even the MRO certificate stating that the person is a bonafide Christian will also be valid. The applicants should possess a valid passport with a minimum validity period of two years at the time of applying.? A screening committee with five members including officials from Minority Welfare Department, AP State Minorities Commission, AP Minorities Finance Corporation and representative from the church bodies.
From Deccan Chronicle, 15 June 2008