by: Ilse Strauss
Monday, 11 January 2021 | A handful of clergymen, VIP guests, journalists and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers yesterday gathered at the Franciscan St. John the Baptist Chapel on the banks of the Jordan River adjacent to Qasr Al-Yahud—the traditional site where Jesus was reportedly baptized—to celebrate the first mass in this spot in 54 years.
The hiatus of more than half a century came to an end with the recent completion of a two-year operation spearheaded by Israel to remove thousands of landmines from the area that was once a popular pilgrimage spot for Christians but descended into a warzone between Israel and neighboring Jordan during the 1967 Six Day and the 1973 Yom Kippur Wars.
The church and its chapel compound served as the battlefield between the IDF and the Hashemite Kingdom’s army during the conflicts, and once the din of battle died down and the soldiers retreated, the church—alongside six others in the vicinity—lay surrounded by 6,500 landmines.
Father Francesco Patton, the custodian of the Holy Land for the Roman Catholic Church, led yesterday’s mass to celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, observed by the Roman Catholic Church as well as some Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist churches on January 10.
“For us today it is the feast of the baptism of Jesus. We commemorate when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River,” Patton shared with the Times of Israel. “But today it is a special feast because after 54 years and three days, we have the opportunity for the first time to celebrate…inside our site and this for us is a very important day.”
Patton pointed out that President Reuven Rivlin was instrumental in the landmine clearing and rehabilitation process to restore the deserted strip on the Jordan River into a site once again fit for Christian worship.
The clearing process was kick-started in 2018 and saw the IDF work alongside HALO Trust, a UK-based de-mining organization, for two years until the last of the 6,500 was removed recently.
In honor of the Israeli army’s critical role in the restoration of the Christian church and its compound, several IDF commanders and young soldiers were invited to join the procession of clergymen and monks, further proof of thriving religious coexistence and freedom in Israel.
Posted on January 11, 2021
Source: (Bridges for Peace, January 7, 2021)
Photo Credit: Eduard Marmet/wikimedia.org
Photo License: Wikimedia
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