Christians in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana get financial aid to visit Jerusalem -2014

Hyderabad: The government-sponsored pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Jerusalem and other Biblical places will most probably take off in February 2014.

The scheme was initiated by the YSR government in 2009. It calls for the state government to provide financial assistance of Rs 20,000 per pilgrim to visit the Holy Land in a group of 50-100.
Two trips took place in 2009-2010, but then the pilgrimage had to be stopped abruptly due to wrangling over the selection of tour operators. The courts ordered a stay.

The stay has been vacated this year and the process for the tour has been initiated once again.
“The file pertaining to the sanction of Rs 2 crore is pending with the government. The process is on. Once the file is approved and budget sanctioned, we will initiate steps for selection of tour operators through tenders, and eligible Christians as per the government guidelines,” K. Umashanker, managing director, Andhra Pradesh State Christian (Minorities) Corporation told Deccan Chronicle on Wednesday.

He said if all goes well, the next pilgrimage will be in February 2014. Uma Shanker said the minorities’ welfare department had already issued a GO No. 99 on October 19 this year listing the guidelines for providing financial assistance to Christians to undertake the pilgrimage.

The Israel government gives a one-week visa and the tour covers places connected with the life of Jesus Christ, such as Bethlehem (birth place of Jesus), Jerusalem (crucifixion, death and resurrection), Nazareth (place of bringing up), Jordan River (place of baptism), the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee (places of preaching). Groups of 50-100 pilgrims will be taken by the tour operator selected by the tender committee appointed by the government.

Assistance is extended to those selected by a screening committee on first come first served basis with preference given to white card holders and aged pilgrims who are physically fit. Those who have been on the pilgrimage with government support before are not eligible to apply.

Scheme started during YSR period:

In 2008 the State Government has announced, for the first time ever, a subsidy for Christian pilgrims who wish to visit the holy land of Jerusalem. The Andhra Pradesh Minorities Welfare Department launched the programme today at a function at the Jubilee hall in Public Gardens.

The Government has sanctioned a budget of Rs 2 crore towards the scheme.The first batch of 50 pilgrims will leave for Israel tomorrow. The amount of subsidy per pilgrim is Rs 20,000 out of a total expense of Rs 56,000 per person for food, transport and accommodation.
The balance amount of Rs 36,000 will be borne individually.

The places covered are Bethlehem where jesus Christ was born, Nazareth where he grew up, the Jordan river where he was baptised, Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee where he preached, Jerusalem where he was crucified and resurrected. The function was attended by Chief Minister Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy, Minister for Minorities WelfareMohammed Ali Shabbir, Secunderabad MP M Anjan Kumar Yadav and several others. Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who was the Chief Guest, wished the pilgrims a safe journey and said that he wished to send a contingent of 1000 pilgrims.

Several leaders from the Christian community, including Rev M Joji and Bishop Sugandhar of the Church of South India showered praise on the Chief Minister for starting the scheme to benefit poor Christian pilgrims and for establishing the Christian Finance Corporation.


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