Govt relaxes restrictions on Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem 

(The Sun Daily) – The government has removed quotas and some other restrictions on Christians making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The decision can be seen as a sort of Christmas present for local Christians who wish to have more freedom to visit the holy land.

Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) Secretary-General Rev Dr Herman Shastri said the move by the government to relax conditions was much welcomed by the council, reports Karen Arukesamy.

“This is certainly a happy news for all of us. We have been in talks with the PM’s office and relevant authorities for one year now and we are glad that Christians are allowed to make their pilgrimage (more freely)”, he said. Malaysia bars travel to Israel but the government has previously allowed Christians to travel to the historic city, regarded as holy to both Christians and Muslims.

Previously, the government had imposed a quota of 700 pilgrims per year, with any one church only allowed to send a group of 40.

According to Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) executive secretary Tan Kong Beng, visits were also limited to 10 days and pilgrims were only allowed one visit every three years.

But a letter sent from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s office to CFM president Ng Moon Hing on Nov 28 said these limits no longer applied and visits could be for a maximum of 21 days.

However, according to Herman, Christians from here must still travel in church groups when entering Israel.

“I think even Israel might not allow (such a long visit),” Tan, who confirmed receipt of the letter, told AFP yesterday.

Najib’s political secretary, Wong Nai Chee, confirmed that he had signed off on the letter but did not give a reason for the move as “it is a cabinet decision and I am just relaying it to CFM”.

“Taking into account the needs of Christian Malaysians, the Home Ministry has amended the religious pilgrimage rules to Israel,” he wrote in the letter seen by AFP.

“The letter should be issued from the Home Ministry,” said Ng, about the move which comes ahead of the 13th general election which must be held within the next six months.