04/23/2008, 00.00
ISRAEL - PALESTINE
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Land mine threat: no baptisms in the Jordan

The disappointment of thousands of Orthodox faithful, who had gathered along the river yesterday to celebrate Holy Week. Showers of Jordan River water have been set up, but one pilgrim says plunging into the river is entirely another matter.

Jericho (AsiaNews) - It is not possible to evoke the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.  The area is full of land mines.  A few thousand Orthodox Christians discovered this yesterday, when they went to the site that by tradition is held to be the place where the episode of the Gospel took place, on the bank controlled by the Israelis.

Pilgrims from Greece, Russia, and other countries of Eastern Europe held a procession from the monastery of Qasr Al-Yahud, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, with the intention of going down to the river, but the Israeli police blocked them from reaching the bank, because of the land mines placed along the border with Jordan.

As recounted by Middle East Online, the faithful were disappointed by the prohibition.  "It was a very bad surprise", says  Theologos Dimakopoulos, from New York, who explains that he had come to experience Holy Week (underway now, in the Julian calendar) in the land of Jesus, and to prepare himself for the ritual immersion.  "I'm still hoping God may intervene to allow us to immerse ourselves", he said to a police agent, who remained unyielding.

Showers were made available for the faithful, so that they could stand beneath the water from the river.  "I have no words to describe the joy, the blessings I feel," said Greek pilgrim Chrisa Giauiki. "It is like being baptised again".

Standing facing the river, the bishop Christodoulos, surrounded by some priests, intoned prayers and blessed the faithful with water from twigs immersed in the Jordan.

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