07/28/2011, 00.00
ISRAEL - JORDAN

Israel will reopen (Israeli) site of the baptism of Jesus

Qasr al-Yahud, was closed for several decades. Now mine clearance, and restoration are completed. A particularly dear place to the Orthodox. But on the eastern shore there is al-Maghtas, a site visited by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI and is more likely to be the true place of the baptism of Christ.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The site on the west bank of the Jordan, where a tradition says that Jesus was baptized has reopened to the public after 44 years of closure. Qasr al-Yahud (the castle of the Jews) had been closed and abandoned since the 1967 war. Following this the Israeli army has mined the area, and built an electric fence to the west of the site, to prevent infiltration from Jordan. There were several monasteries in that area, but the monks abandoned them. In the 1980s, it was possible to reach the river bank through a narrow passage, and baptisms took place again, the army allowed small groups to go to site, by prior arrangement. In practice, the visitors came only during Christian holidays.

Qasr al-Yahud is particularly important for Eastern Churches. At the feast of the Epiphany the place is crowded with pilgrims dressed in white who participate in the baptismal rite. Now thanks to the de-mining, and restoration, the site will be open to all, on a regular basis, and this course will have a beneficial effect on the local economy. The site belongs to the Ministry for Tourism, although the head of the department, Stas Misezhnikov was not present at the opening ceremony, instead he was replaced by the Minister for Regional Development, Shalom.

Many scholars think that Jesus was baptized in Qasr al-Yahud, just south of the famous Allenby Bridge, the main passage between the two banks of the Jordan. But there is another site with a great tradition of ancient Christian presence, however, and is on the east bank of the Jordan. It is called al-Maghtas (baptism, or immersion in Arabic) and is what many consider the true place of the baptism of Jesus, following UNESCO excavations in the area. Al-Maghtas would be consistent with the story of the Gospel of John (1:28), who speaks of Bethany beyond the Jordan, and there are tales of ancient pilgrims, in addition to the finds of the excavation (ancient chapels and churches) that validate the hypotheses, of course, defended by the Kingdom of Jordan. This site was visited by Pope John Paul II in March 2000 and by Benedict XVI in May 2009.
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