JORDAN – On Friday, January 14, the Catholic Churches in Jordan marked the 22nd annual national and Christian pilgrimage to the Baptism Site during which Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa celebrated a festive Holy Mass at the Church of the Baptism of Christ.
During a press conference organized by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM), prior to the religious celebration, CCSM Director Fr. Dr. Rif’at Bader said, “It is a source of pleasure to hold this celebration this year at the Baptism Site which has been taking place incessantly over the past 22 years in our modern time. We also recall that in the early ages, the Baptism Site was a destination for numerous pilgrims. Over these years, this site has been visited by personalities and religious delegations from all parts of the world, as it has become an essential part of the pilgrimage trips of our brethren from various Churches and several countries.”
Fr. Bader hoped that the Corona epidemic would dissipate so that the frequency of the arrival of the pilgrims would restore its status quo ante or even exceed that especially after the completion of the work this year at the Church of the Baptism of Christ which is affiliated with the Latin Church in Jordan. He added that this church will serve as a luminous beacon to receive pilgrims and quench their thirst from the sanctity of the soil and water of this holy place–whose name is like the name of the beloved country, Jordan–namely the eternal Jordan River where in this part of Earth Lord Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist.
He said, “This is the first celebration marked on the threshold of the second centenary of our beloved country, Jordan. That is why we came today to pray also for our dear country and for the leadership of His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein who attaches special importance to this place and calls in all forums for visiting it and for being blessed by its water. We also do not forget the efforts exerted by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Ibn Mohammad, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Baptism Site. These efforts are combined with the efforts of the Churches, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Jordan Tourism Board, and media outlets which promoted from this place with a twin invitation, namely to pray for peace and healing, as well as for the return of visitors and pilgrims to this unique and sacred place.”
For his part, Patriarch Pizzaballa noted that this year’s Christmas celebrations started with a meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II which included heads of Churches in Jordan and Palestine as well as heads of Islamic institutions in Jordan and Palestine. He also talked about the values of common living in addition to Jerusalem and the Hashemite custodianship of its holy sites. He added that Christmas celebrations were better than the year before but we still have missed the pilgrims. He hoped that the health conditions will improve worldwide so that they will be able to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem, as well as Jordan, and stand by the immortal Jordan River at the Baptism Site.
His Beatitude Patriarch Pizzaballa pointed out that this year’s celebration coincides with Jordan being on the threshold of the second centenary, and he pleaded with the Almighty God that Jordan would complete its procession towards growth and reform. He referred to his Christmas mid-night Holy Mass homily in Bethlehem last month in which he said, “Jordan was exposed to several challenges during its first centenary, but it still teaches the world countries what solidarity, hospitality, and openness are.” He hoped that this feast may be a sign of hope and comfort for our Church in Jordan, so that she may continue to listen to the voice of the Spirit, and not be afraid of the future, but rather remain open and welcoming, as well as lively and full of religious, pastoral and social initiatives.
Patriarch Pizzaballa paid tribute to the efforts exerted by the Royal Baptism Site Commission chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, the Baptism Site personnel, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the Jordan Tourism Board. He also thanked the various Churches that promote this unique site and invite pilgrims to visit it. He also pointed out that the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem will continue to complete the construction of the Church of the Baptism of Christ so that, God willing, it will be a destination for pilgrims and a sign of unity among the Christians of Jordan and their brethren in the entire world.
His Excellency Minister of youth and Acting Minister of Tourism and Archaeology Mohammad Salameh Nabulsi noted that the Ministry of Tourism has all the time been exerting strenuous efforts to promote tourism despite the difficult circumstances caused by the Corona pandemic which weakened this extremely important sector. He added that despite the difficult health conditions in the region and the world, over 50,000 visitors and pilgrims have arrived at the site. He added that His Majesty King Abdullah II pays special attention to the Baptism Site as he issued last year a Royal decree to form the International Consultancy Council to develop the lands neighboring the Baptism Site.
Director at Baptism Site Commission Mr. Rustom Mkhjian lauded the efforts exerted to develop the Baptism Site which reinforces its status as a starting point to visit other Christian pilgrimage sites in Jordan.
Later, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa marked pilgrimage day by celebrating a festive Holy Mass, which was concelebrated by Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Petra and Philadelphia and Entire Jordan Joseph Jbarah, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Syriac Catholics Bishop Ya’coub Sam’an, Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan Fr. Jamal Khader, Parish Priest of the Maronite Church Fr. Joseph Swede, Charge d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Amman Monsignor Mauro Lalli, and priests from all Catholic Churches. In attendance were about 1,000 people from various governorates, a number of members of Lower House of Parliament and ambassadors to Jordan.
At the end of the ceremony, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan Fr. Jamal Khader praised the government’s support for the local and global Christian pilgrimage stressing that Churches in the Kingdom always strive, in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, to turn the Baptism Site into a heritage site for the entire world and a place open to receive pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. He also thanked the Royal Baptism Site Commission and the site administration, the Jordan Armed Forces-the Arab Army, the security apparatuses, as well as parliamentary and diplomatic figures for their presence, in addition to the various media people for their coverage of the ceremony.