About 15,000 Christians from Jordan and the Holy Land came today to the shores of the Jordan River to the spot where, according to tradition, Jesus was baptised. They travelled to the holy site, which is just a few kilometres south-west of the Jordanian capital of Amman, to celebrate the Feat of the Theophany.
Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool has expressed solidarity with the Christians in the Holy Land, following a visit there.
He was part of a delegation of Catholic bishops from Europe and North America who visited Christian communities and Church leaders in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee.
It follows a another trip by members of catholic peace group Pax Christito Bethlehem at Christmas.
Pax Christi also met with members of the Muslim and Jewish communities who are working for peace and human rights in the region.
In recent years, Bethlehem has been under curfew at Christmas and the Church of the Nativity was involved in a siege in Bethlehem in 2002.
At Easter Christians in the West Bank were prevented by Israel’s security measures from visiting the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion to celebrate Easter.
Reports suggest that thousands of Christians are also now leaving the town of Christ’s birth and going abroad.
Bethlehem continues to be the Palestinian city with the largest Christian population. The Christians and Muslims there have, for the most part, lived peacefully side by side.
As the Intifada has continued however, unemployment has soared to 60 or even 70%.
In 2004 Pax Christi launched its “People of the Holy Land need Bridges not Walls ” campaign to raise awareness of the impact of the separation wall, called by some the “Apartheid Wall”, on the Palestinian community.
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah has warned that Christians face extinction if present emigration trends continue.
The delegation of bishops, who visited parishes, schools, hospitals and Bethlehem University, pledged their support for the Christian community. They also praised those who work for peace, justice and security.
The experience of these days strengthened my conviction that is appropriate for the Bishops Conference of England and Wales to continue to be part of this annual gathering and its consequences, Archbishop Kelly said.