Holidaying in Hyderabad 

Saturday 

Arrival

We arrived at the bustling and bright Hyderabad airport in the afternoon and were met at the airport with traditional flower garlands by our friends. We hopped into a cab and chatted along the drive into Secunderabad. We checked in to the Justa Hotel on Necklace Road next to Hussain Sagar reservoir in Secunderabad. Hyderabad was so far typically Indian – rough with the smooth and filthy dirty next to pristine places – a city of contrasts like everywhere in India. The hotel was inbetween two building sites. The staff ere friendly and the room basic and clean. We dropped off our bags (and flower garlands) and headed out.

NTR Gardens and Park


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We headed out to a park called NTR Gardens. There was a small fee to get in (I think 20 rupees) and it was busy with families arriving for an evening in the park. There was plenty to do. We took the Toy Train ride around the park and people watched as we went round.  Zahra tried to break the bungi trampoline by jumping so high hopes went slack! Then there was the water slide. Sunny and Finny took Zahra on and they had fun as well as getting wet. I noticed that the were a large constituency of Muslims enjoying the park – not something often seen in Bangalore. It was a refreshing change.

Sunny, Zahra and Finny enjoying the toy train ride

Paradise Restaurant 


Getting hungry we headed over to the Paradise restaurant for the “world’s favourite biryani”. The food was good and plentiful (a take home bag was necessary) but the service was super slow which let it down. 

We went  to a local mall for a (huge) ice cream for dessert. They chop and mix the ingredients together in a display before you get your ice cream. Zahra went for ferrero rocher and there was a lot of chocolate and chocolate sauce involved!

Ice cream mixing

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Sunday 

King’s Temple Church


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Sunday involved and early start for church. We headed over to the Mahbub College Grounds for the 9am service of King’s Temple Church. The 7am service is in English, the 9am in English with immediate Telegu translation and an 11am service in Telegu. As our friends are Telegu speakers we opted for the service which suited us all at 9am.

Church traffic jam
 

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We arrived in a traffic jam. Hundreds of people were leaving the early service and hundreds of people were heading into the 9am service. The college was also a building site. The “hall” had no walls and the ceiling was under construction. Piles of building materials had to be navigated to get into the service. 

Navigating building materials at the entrance

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We were given the “elements”(communion wafer and juice), a church leaflet and a donation envelope as we walked in. We were quickly walked to plastic chairs about a third of the way from the front. The band was in full flow and the singers were giving it their all. It was a party atmosphere. There was a large stage, professional lighting and sound, a band and a blue tarpaulin covering the roof. Incredible India right here and as it is monsoon season I am glad it didn’t rain! 

The band and singers continued joyfully for some time before the pastor came on to deliver his sermon on the importance of prayer, and prayer in way that’s biblical rather than a shopping list. It was strange art first that the preacher would say a sentence or two and wait for the translator to translate his every word. The Translator also followed the preacher around the stage, keeping just a few feet away from him all the time. I quickly got used to it and settled into listening to the sermon. 

We took communion and the (many) collection buckets were circulated for tithes and donations. Then there was another sermon by video by the senior pastor, again with a translation in the recording. It ended up being rather shouty for my liking and the sound was clearly struggling with the noise and the translation became inaudible towards the end. I was quite relieved when it finished. The sermon, on prayer, was good but I had a headache from the loud shouting. The service was 2 hours long and attended by several hundred people – the congregation was huge.. I did think how many people in the U.K. would sit through a service that long. People get itchy feet when a service runs a minute over one hour in the UK!

We headed over to Cafe Coffee Day (India’s answer to Starbucks and Costa, except they don’t do soya milk) for a caffeine shot and rest. 

Salar Jung Museum

Suitably refreshed we headed over to the Salar Jung Museum. This had beautiful collections of art and objects from all over the world. The Salar Jung family were hereditary prime ministers in the Hyderabad court to the Nizams, the rulers of Hyderabad, from the middle of the 19th century. The museum was established in 1951 and moved to its current location on the banks of the river Musi in 1968. It was extended in the year 2000 when two blocks were added. Renovations to three of the galleries were in progress when we visited.


Now like most places of interest in India there is one price for Indians and one price for foreigners. In this case it was 20 rupees (25p) for an Indian and 500 rupees (£6) for a foreigner plus a 50 rupee (60p) phone camera charge. I had my FRO (Foreigner Registration Office) with me and and was going to fight my corner. We live in Bangalore and I’m not paying the extortionate foreigner rate. Purchasing the ticket wasn’t an issue. Getting passed the lady in the women’s security line was. “Madam, not Indian” greeted me when I handed over my ticket. I swiftly announced I lived here and produced copies of our visas, FRO forms, change of address – you name it I had it. The lady security guard looked flummoxed and waved over another (male) security guard who checked our documents and waved us in. Mrs security guard did not look impressed as we walked in through to the next screening (airport security style). Sometimes it is the just little things…


The collections of art and decorative objects is impressive and over the course of several hours we managed to see nearly all of it before tiredness took over. There are collections of paintings, carpets, weapons, textiles, metal work, walking sticks, furniture, jade, ivory, sculptures and much more. The statue of the “Veiled Rebecca” (by Benzoni, a 19th century Italian sculptor) and the jade collection were particular highlights. Collections are generally divided into Far East, Indian, and European spread across two floors and three wings. It’s certainly a walk to take in all the collections. There is a central hall which houses a musical clock and attracts a large crowd to watch it chime every hour. The museum also has a food court and a souvenir shop, neither of which we had time to visit. It was very busy and clearly a popular museum, which sometimes made it difficult to see or get close to some of the exhibits. The first floor exhibits were much less crowded though.

Monday

The ladies and children’s pool with water bucket

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Jalavihar Waterpark

Jalavihar (“exciting water”) waterpark. ₽250 per person admission. Own food and drink is not allowed in the park and is retained at reception until you leave. There were slides (with and without rubber rings), a wavepool (with a ladies only section), ladies and children slide and pool area and a rain disco. Dry games for kids and flocks of birds (chickens, geese, guinea fowl) wandering freely around the park. Views across the lake were stunning from the top of the slides. It was small but with lots of slides to keep a 10 year old happy for several hours until tiredness kicked in. The changing rooms were basic with toilets and showers outnumbering the four changing cubicles considerably. Lockers were available to rent at ₽100 and were small but functional. The was a food area with stalls but we didn’t eat there. It was an enjoyable day out.

Eat Street

We headed over to Eat Street afterwards for food. There are stunning views across Hussain Sagar lake. It was beautiful and peaceful. We drank our coffee and ate pizza and noodles, after all we had worked up an appetite.

Nanking Chinese Restaurant and camel ride

In the evening we headed out to the Nanking Chinese restaurant, stopping en route for a camel ride for Zahra. Two camels in the central reservation car parking with some mini fairground rides. A makeshift tourist spot. The camel ride cost ₽30 if you shared or ₽50 for a sole ride. The camels were walked about 50m away before turning round and coming back. It was short and sweet, but Zahra enjoyed it nonetheless. Camels are huge and have massive feet; just an observation.


The Nanking Chinese restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived. We ordered our food and it came promptly. We ordered small dishes and I’m glad we all didn’t order a dish each because the “small” portions were huge! One plate of “small” noodles provided three large portions. It was ridiculous. We ate as much as we could and asked for the rest of the food to be parcelled up for a takeaway. The restaurant happily obliged. 

Tuesday

Charminar 

The Charminar

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Literally means four minarets and was built by Sultan Mohamed Quli Shah between 1591 and 1612. It is in the middle of a busy market and effective operates as a roundabout, so to get to it you have to dodge traffic coming from all directions as well as market traders. It was a little hair raising! The queue was about 30 people long but we, as foreigners, were ushered to the front of the queue by a guide. Indian entry fee was 15 rupees (17p) and foreigner entry fee was 200 rupees (£2.40), children were free. I couldn’t be bothered arguing and frankly it was worth it to queue jump. We hired the guide to show us rounds (negotiated down from 300 rupees to 200 rupees) and again proved to be worth every rupee as we skipped the normal queues to go up (and down) and entered (and exited) via the restricted entry gate. We climbed the stone spiral castle like staircase to the first floor and took in the marvellous views across the busy marketplaces.

Bustling markets at the Charminar gates
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The markets on each side sell separate things. One side for lacquered bangles (mouled out of pure lac and studded with glittering cut glass), another for pearls, another for fruit and the remaining for clothes and linen. Perfume called Itar or Attar is also sold. This is traditional perfume based in sandlewood oil (rather than alcohol), and fragranced with rose or musk or jasmine.
10km underground tunnel from the Golconda Fort to the fountain under the Charminar. 

The Quabbala Shahi Dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk in 1518 CE.He was initially in the court of of Bahamani rulers and in due course was made The Governor of Telangana under the Bahmani Kingdom. After the death of the Bahamani Sultan he declared independence in 1518 and established the Qutb Shahi Dynasty (1518-1687 CE), which ruled over the Golkonda Kingdom comprising of Telangana, Andhra, parts of northern Karnataka, Marathwada and Berra regions for about 171 years, and by seven monarchs of the dynasty. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered Golconda Fort in 1687 CE and subsequently annexed it to his empire.

Chowmalla Palace

A rather uninspiring entrance hid the opulence of the magnificent Chowmalal Place. It’s a large peaceful retreat in a busy bustling city with four garden courtyards and several palace buildings. It was the main residence of the ruling nizams in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The most opulent of these halls is the Khilwat Mubarak; a Durban hall with magnificent crystal chandeliers and a balcony. It is at the heart of the palace and the coronation of VIII Nizam was held here on 6th April, 1967.

Khilwat Mubarak
The adjoining halls had various antique collections including an armoury of the Asaf Jami Dynasty. 

Amongst the various palace buildings there was an impressive collection of antique cars, including Rolls Royces. It was a pleasant and peaceful walk with plenty to see.


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Wednesday

Today was a rest day at our friend’s home. We had mahendi done. A much needed relaxing day.


Thursday

Nehru Zoological Park was our destination today and it proved to be a good walk too. It’s a sprawling zoo in 300 acres, part of which is a ‘safari’ (aka wild) area. Most of the animals are contained within moated areas but the big cats were rather depressingly in small cages. There were additional fees to look around the very small aquarium, the nocturnal exhibits (literally too dark to see anything in places, including where you are walking) and the ‘safari’ to see the lions and tigers.  Whilst it was cleaner than most zoos we have visited in India it was still a building site in places and some of the animals displayed signs of distress by pacing or swaying on the spot. The lions and tigers in the ‘safari’ were in cages.

Unusually, there was a temple to Hunaman (the monkey god) inside the zoo.

Facilities were few as there was only one food area within the entire zoo and only one set of toilets. Both left much to be desired. 

Sign showing the way to the temple
Building works in front of the elephant enclosure
Spelling is everything
The only map of the zoo we saw, half way round

Friday

We had a trip to the Birla Science Museum and modern art gallery on Friday. Zahra had a great time in the interactive zone.

The interactive zone
Measurements are so important

Then we went to the famous 10 Downing Street (“10D”) pub for lunch. It’s inside a small shopping mall and worth finding as the lunchtime special menu was super cheap for 3 courses including a drink.

10 Downing Street pub

Boat ride to Buddha statue

Buddha
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Hussain Sagar is a large reservoir (from the 17th century!) which separates Secunderabad from Hyderabad built by Husain Shah Wali. The Buddha statue is on the island in the reservoir. Boats ferry across tourists at regular intervals for a small fee. It is the largest monolithic statue of Gautam Buddha in India. It was carved out of a single granite rock by 40 sculptors under the guidance of Ganapati Stapathi. It was transported 60kms from Raigiri on a massive carriage with 192 wheels. It was erected in December 1992 is 17m high and weighs 320 tonnnes. It was consecrated by His Holiness the Dalia Lama on 2nd January 2006.

Holidaying in Hyderabad 

There was certainly a lot to see and do in Hyderabad and we didn’t see it all in this trip. We have previously been to the Golconda Fort so didn’t visit it again this time. There were various palace hotels and mosques and temples we didn’t have time to see either. If you’re in India it’s certainly worth a trip, especially as flights and accommodation are so cheap. 

Bonalu

Front page picture from the Hyderabad Times

What is it? 

Bonalu is a folk festival celebrated in the Telangana region, Andhra Pradesh. This century-old tradition is observed with gaiety and devotional fervour. 

When is it?

It is during the month of Asadh. This is Sunday 25th June to Sunday 16th July in 2017. 

How is it celebrated?

This month long festival is marked by devotional singing and ritualistic worship of the village deities. The ‘Ghatams’ or decorated pots, filled with flowers, are the main attraction of the festival. The flower pots are carried on the heads of women in a procession. Similarly cooked rice is also carried by women on their heads to the local goddess accompanied by male drummers. Every Sunday from the end of June throughout July there are colourful celebrations ongoing.

Bonalu is celebrated chiefly in the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad ( where we happen to be on holiday at the moment). Saree Jagadambika Temple located on the top of the Golconda Fort attracts the most devotees from the region. The state government also performs puja officially on behalf of the people. Temples are decorated. 

In Hyderabad the newspapers reported low attendance at work from female employees who were celebrating Bonalu. Some employers are allowing female staff to leave early to visit temples for puja. Office are reported to be in a festive atmosphere as ladies distribute sweets to colleagues dressed for the occasion. 

Desperately Seeking Soulmates

The Times of India , 10th April 2016

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

In the West

It is interesting how different cultures accept and address singleness and marriage. In the west there are various websites to assist people, who want to, find a partner. In the newspapers there are adverts with the headings usually along the lines of ‘men seeking women’, ‘women seeking men’, ‘men seeking men’, ‘women seeking women’ and so on.  Acronyms are plentiful e.g. GSH = good sense of humour etc. to reduce advertising costs. The adverts usually list hobbies and what they are looking for eg ‘fun, friendship and nights out’. The adverts are all placed by the people themselves who are seeking friendship or more.

In India

In India there are completely different sub categories. Today, in the Times of India, the following subheadings and categories were used for those seeking ‘Soulmates’:

  • Caste
  • Community
  • Profession
  • Religion
  • Language 
  • Nationality
  • General

It speaks volumes about the attitudes to people from different backgrounds, regions, religions and nationality. The page was separated into blue ‘Wanted Brides’ and pink ‘Wanted Grooms’, reinforcing stereotypes. There is absolutely nowhere for people to advertise for people meeting each other for friendship or relationships; this is purely for marriage only.

Included in the adverts are details of looks and width (slim!) height, skin colour (fair being preferred), date of birth, father’s occupation and asking for people with similar qualifications, background, language, caste etc. The majority of the adverts appear to be placed by the parents of sons and daughters who are seeking spouses for their children. Arranged marriages effectively. 

There are no sections for LGBT people to advertise. Sexual activity between two males is illegal in India and punishment is incarceration – a minimum of 10 years up to life in prison (although there have been no convictions for 20 years, despite arrests in 2014). Female same sex activity is not criminalised. 

Are the times changing?

The Times has placed its own advert on the bottom left of the page: 

It is said marriages are made in Heaven. It is a sacred union of soulmates who may not belong to the same colour, creed or colour.

As the social constraints imposed by the society slowly disappear, inter-caste and inter-community marriages are becoming more and more acceptable – and logical. To commemorate this changing trend, The Times of India dedicates exclusive space for inter caste and inter community marriages. A 25% discount will be offered to matrimonial advertisers who place their advert under the sub- heading “Caste No Bar”  and a 50% discount for matrimonial advertisers who place their advert under “Religion No Bar”.

In today’s paper there was not a single advert under the heading ‘religion no bar’. Under the heading ‘caste no bar’ there were only 2 adverts placed under ‘brides wanted’ and 9 under ‘grooms wanted’. 

It appears it is a triumph of hope over reality, by the Times of India, that trends and social constraints surrounding marriage are disappearing. What a shame society isn’t rising to the challenge – so much change is needed.

Easter Sunday – The Resurrection of Jesus, The Son of God

Easter is the day Christians remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead after 3 days lying in the tomb. He defeated death and sin. He conquered evil so that all who believe in Him may go to Heaven. It is detailed in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Paul the Apostle wrote about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15.

When is it?

The week before Easter is called Holy Week which includes Maundy Thursday when the Last Supper (the last meal Jesus had with His disciples) took place and Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified.

Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon in March or April. In 2016 it is on Sunday 27th March, which is also the same day as daylight saving time begins in the UK (British Summer Time) and all the clocks are put forward one hour. 

What is it? 

The resurrection occurred 3 days after Jesus was crucified by the Romans at Calvary and was anointed and laid to rest in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and a large rock rolled in front of it. On the third day God raised Him from the dead. The tomb was discovered to be empty when the women visited the tomb just before sunrise on the first day of the week. Angels appeared to them and told them that Christ had risen from the dead, not to be afraid and to tell the disciples. Peter, the most beloved disciple, ran to the tomb to find the folded grave clothes and the stone rolled away.

The belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the key to Christianity. It is the plan of salvation and redemption, the sacrifice was an atonement for sin. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”(1 John chapter 1 verse 9) “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John chapter 3 verse 16).

Jesus appeared to the disciples and many people over a period of 40 days before He ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God. Jesus first appeared to a woman, Mary Magdalene, and commissioned her to tell the disciples that He had risen from the dead. Jesus week later He appeared to doubting Thomas who had to touch Jesus’ wounds before he would believe it was Jesus risen from the dead. Jesus was not instantly recognisable after His resurrection and it took some moments before people recognised Him. Jesus said “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:24-29)

My faith

I know that because I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, that He died for me on the cross and that I have asked for forgiveness for all the wrong in my life that I will be with Him in Heaven one day. My life has a purpose. There is a reason I am here on earth and that is fulfilling God’s plan for me whilst I am here.  I have no desire to fawn over so called celebrities; I have no interest in becoming famous; I don’t need the latest fashion or handbag (although I will admit to a weakness for shoes!); I don’t want to go out and get drunk every Friday and Saturday night because it’s the end of the working week. There is more to life than work, shopping and alcohol – and it is found in Jesus. In the West merely using the word Jesus (in a religious rather than cursing context) makes people uncomfortable and shy away from being near you. That one word – Jesus- makes people think that you are some religious fanatic but the reality is that I am just like any other person with my successes, failings, inadequacies, skills, worries and joys and I swear (quite a lot sometimes) and say what I think always (which is not always welcome). I am the same on the outside as anybody else – what makes me different is my belief in the Son of God, that He forgives me and that gives my life a purpose.

How is it celebrated?

In the UK church services are held at sunrise to mark when Jesus was discovered to have risen from the dead. Other church services are held in the morning. There is a celebratory atmosphere with joyful singing that the Son of God has risen from the dead so that we may be with Him in Paradise. 

Families gather and have roast dinner together. Chocolate Easter Eggs are usually exchanged but especially for children. 

Most shops in the UK are closed on Easter Sunday. Shops in the UK are only required to close on 2 days each year – Christmas Day, when Jesus was born, and Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead. 

The ‘Easter Bunny’ pays a visit in the early hours of the morning and leaves chocolate eggs lying around in the home or garden. Children excitedly hunt for them as soon as they wake up. Chocolate eggs for breakfast is common place on Easter Sunday!

Want to know more?

If you want to know more or, best of all, welcome Jesus into your heart take a look at http://www.crosscheck.org.uk for more information. 

Good Friday – The Crucifixtion of Jesus, Son of God

I write quite a bit about Hindu festivals in India, there are so many of them, but so far not written very much about Christianity. I have been asked lots of questions about Easter as we put up decorations inside the house and on the door. Zahra’s friends and the staff have been intrigued and listened intently to the gospel as I have explained about the meaning of Lent, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There is genuine interest. It’s strange for me, coming from the west it’s extremely difficult to open a conversation about Christianity – people are just not interested in ‘Bible Bashers’ talking about their faith. Here, people are interested and ask about it and question. It took me by surprise initially and I tried not to look astonished at the open opportunity to tell the gospel. Now I am a little more prepared for the questions and just tell it how it is (yes, I know, nothing new for me there!). So this post is for those readers who don’t know much about Christianity, Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us all.
The Crucifixtion of Jesus, Son of God

Good Friday is the day that Jesus, the Son of God, and Messiah (Christ) was arrested, tried and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be flogged and finally handed over to the Jews who crucified Him. (It is established as a historical event from non Christian sources although among historians there is no consensus on the precise details of what occurred.) It is chronicled in the Bible in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 

Jesus was stripped of his clothing and cruelly flogged. He was clothed in a robe of Royal purple and a crown of thorns placed on his head. He was beaten and spat on. He was then forced to carry the cross to Golgotha, the place of the skull, where He was nailed by the hands and feet to the cross and hung to be crucified between two thieves. The soldiers fixed a sign to the cross saying “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in three different languages. The soldiers divided Jesus clothes amongst themselves, casting lots for His robe. Jesus offered words of forgiveness to His killers: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”(Luke 23 verse 34). It was Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness for all those who were involved crucifying Him and the Roman soldiers who carried out the actual crucifixtion.

The Thief

When one of the thieves who were being crucified with Him, asked to be remembered when Jesus comes into His Kingdom and asked for forgiveness of his sins from the Son of God, Jesus replied with words of salvation: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise”. (Luke 23 v43.)

Mary, Mother of Jesus

On seeing His mother, Mary, Jesus said:”Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” This was an instruction to His beloved disciple John to look after His mother and John took Mary into his family that day. Jesus was caring for His mother even on the cross, when He was in agony, His thoughts were for His mother. It shows the depth of Jesus love for His mother and for the disciple John into whom He entrusted her care.

Jesus’ Death

“Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” Which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27 verse 46 and Mark 15 verse 34). This is the cry of the Son of God who showed His true humanity and felt forsaken by His father in Heaven. He was offered sour wine vinegar to drink when “He said, “I thirst”” (John 19 verse 28) . It was offered to Him on a hyssop branch to His lips. This fulfilled the phrophecy in Psalm 61 verse 21.

Jesus plan was fulfilled when He said “It is finished”( John 19 verse 30) – He had completed what He had come to do. Salvation was made possible. He had taken our place. His love was demonstrated by dying for us so that we may live – a sacrifice for all of humanity’s sins. Jesus last word on the cross were “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23 verse 48). He was reunited with God the Father. Mission accomplished. Darkness fell across the land and the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom.

After Jesus died the soldiers pierced his side with a sword to confirm that He was dead. After His death, Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus from Pontiius Pilate and placed it in a new garden tomb.

Jesus death on the cross was a knowing and willing sacrifice for the whole of humanity’s sins and make salvation possible. This is what is commemorated on Good Friday every year – the sacrifice that Jesus, the Son of God, made for all humanity.

Find out what happened next and what is celebrated on Easter Sunday in another blog post coming soon!