On Friday, January 10, the Catholic Churches in Jordan marked the 20th anniversary of Christian and national pilgrimage to the Baptism Site of Lord Jesus Christ in the modern time, which is considered one of the most prominent Christian holy sites in the world.
Prior to the start of the religious rites, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM) in Jordan held a press conference, near the Russian Pilgrimage House, in which a large number of local, Arab, and international media agencies participated. During the press conference, CCSM Director Fr. Dr. Rif’at Bader said that today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the start of pilgrimage to the Baptism Site in the modern era. January 7, 2000, marked the first celebration during which 2,000 prayer candles were lit with the participation of all Churches. On March 21, 2000, Saint Pope John Paul II visited Jordan and prayed in the vicinity of Tell Mar Elias with the participation of 40,000 pilgrims.
Fr. Dr. Bader pointed out that the Jordan River was visited by Pope Paul VI in 1964, Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, and Pope Francis in 2014, in addition to several Church leaders around the world. He continued that this celebration is part of the annual activity of the Kingdom’s churches, as it is celebrated by the Catholic Churches on the second Friday of January every year, while it is celebrated by the Orthodox Churches on the third Friday of the year. He also lauded the efforts exerted by the authorities, the Church, the touristic departments, and the media outlets that participated in promoting this site globally, which was officially endorsed as one of the sites assigned for pilgrimage, and added to the list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites.
For his part, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Most Rev. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who patronized the celebration, referred to the remarkable development witnessed at the Baptism Site over the past 20 years, which made it one of the most prominent religious sites for Christian pilgrimage in Jordan, in addition to being one of the most important places of the Christian faith. On behalf of the Churches, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa thanked His Majesty King Abdullah II Ben Al Hussein, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Baptism Site His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the Jordan Tourism Board, and all the Churches for the great interest expressed in this holy site.
On behalf of Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Majd Shweikeh, Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities Dr. Imad Hijazin pointed out that Jordan considers Christian and Islamic religious sites part of its principled in moderation, acceptance of others, as well as out of the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem and its religious sanctities. He stressed that Jordan attaches great importance and services to these sites in order to be a leading country and a model in common living and plurality.
Director of the Baptism Site Authority Engineer Eng. Rustom Mkhjian, recalled, in a welcoming address, the first celebration that took place at the Baptism Site 20 years ago, specifically on January 7, 2000. He pointed out that after this date, this unique holy site witnessed many visits, meetings and important events, such as a visits by three Popes, as well as by many church heads, kings, and leaders from different countries of the world, in addition to Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic and Anglican churches, thus becoming a witness to building bridges of love and peace among human beings.
After the press conference, Archbishop Pizzaballa celebrated holy Mass. In attendance were Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Petra and Philadelphia and entire Jordan Joseph Jbarah, heads and representatives of Catholic Churches in Jordan, a number of officials, and ambassadors.
In his homily, Bishop Jbarah addressed the spiritual significance of baptism. He said that it is a basic event in Christianity, during which a person becomes a member of the Church. He called on those present to thank the Almighty God for the grace of the sacred baptism. He added, amid tumultuous applause, that Lord Jesus Christ had chosen Jordan to be the site of His unique baptism.
The religious ceremony was attended by heads and representatives of the Catholic Churches, namely Latin, Roman Catholics, Maronites, Chaldeans, Syriac Catholics, and Armenian Catholics. It included blessing of the waters of the Jordan River and spraying it on the masses of believers. Prayers were said and hymns were sung by Mira Smairat and Deacon Malek Farahat for maintenance of security and stability in the Kingdom, as well as peace throughout the entire Middle East and the world.
At the end of the Holy Mass, Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate Fr. Ibrahim Shomali thanked all officials, Churches, security authorities, the Arab Army, and media outlets for the joint efforts that were exerted and ensured the success of this annual celebration.
By: Munir Bayouk