Around 20 years after excavations began on the East Bank of the Jordan River to uncover the site where Jesus Christ was baptised, Pope Francis will be the third pontiff to pray there on Saturday.
Some 50km west of Amman and 10km north of the Dead Sea, “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” annually receives more than 90,000 Christian pilgrims, according to Jordan Tourism Board Director General Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat.
Pope John Paul II visited the Baptism Site in March 2000 and held a mass there, while Pope Benedict XVI visited in May 2009 and blessed the foundation stone of the Latin and Greek Melkite churches, according to the site’s official website.
Bethany beyond the Jordan has gained the recognition of various churches around the world as the actual site where Jesus Christ was baptised by John the Baptist, according to Christian beliefs.
The Bible explicitly mentions Bethany east of the river as the place where John the Baptist lived and baptised, according to UNESCO.
“Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptising,” according to John 1:28, while John 10:40 mentions an incident when Jesus escaped from hostile Jews in Jerusalem and “went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptised”.
Arabiyat said the third papal visit to the site and the fourth to Jordan will encourage more tourists to visit for religious purposes.
“This visit is the first step towards promoting Jordan as a religious destination,” Arabiyat told The Jordan Times over the phone, adding that preparations are under way for hosting a religious tourism conference next year.
“We are preparing for a conference in the first quarter of 2015 which heads of churches from across the world will be attending,” he explained.
“We have already started promoting the Kingdom as a destination for Christian religious tourism in some of Latin America countries,” Arabiyat said.
Officials say the country’s tourism sector has started regaining the lost numbers of visitors due to regional turmoil, with the first three months of the year witnessing a 3.1 per cent increase in over-night tourists.
Revenues are also growing, with the period in question witnessing an increase of 11 per cent compared to the same period in 2013.
The settlement of Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John the Baptist lived and baptised, includes the hill where the Prophet Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire, according to Christian beliefs.
The site also includes a large number of historic churches, baptismal pools and caves that were inhabited by priests.
In 2002, faithful Christians commemorated the baptism of Christ there for the first time since the site’s discovery in 1997, after the area was demilitarised following the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
Since then, thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world annually mark Theophany and Epiphany at the site. Theophany (the Greek version of the Anglican Epiphany) marks the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the second person of the Holy Trinity — along with God and the Holy Spirit — which took place at the time of his baptism.
By: The Jordan Times-Khetam Malkawi