Faithful return to Jesus baptism site in Jordan after Covid lull

Faithful return to Jesus baptism site in Jordan after Covid lull
Thousands of Catholic Christians attended a special mass on Friday at the site they believe Jesus Christ was baptised, after stricter Covid rules were lifted.
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In 2015, UNESCO added Al-Maghtas to its World Heritage List [Getty/archive]

Thousands of Catholic Christians attended Friday a special mass on the banks of the Jordan River in an annual pilgrimage to the site where faithful believe Jesus Christ was baptised.

"This is the first (pilgrimage) day after the end of the coronavirus pandemic," said Father Rifat Bader, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Jordan.

The annual event was limited in 2021 to members of the clergy amid strict restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Last year, 1,000 people were allowed to attend, Bader told a press conference ahead of the ceremony in Al-Maghtas, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

More than 5,000 people joined this year's mass at the Church of the Baptism of Christ, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital Amman, an AFP photographer said.

Before the ceremony started, dozens of priests filled jugs at the river's edge as scouts played music.

The priests then dipped their fingers in the water they drew from the Jordan River and used it to bless the congregation, emulating the baptism of Jesus.

The mass was led by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

"Today... we welcome to this holy site more than 5,000 pilgrims from our cities, villages and Catholic churches," Bader said.

The site in Wadi al-Kharrar is where biblical historians believe Jesus was baptised by his cousin, John the Baptist, and began his public ministry.

Another site on the Israeli-occupied western bank of the Jordan River is also venerated.

A ceremony held at Wadi al-Kharrar in 2000 by Pope John Paul II was taken by Jordanians as confirmation that this was the original baptismal site.

The remains of several churches, baptismal pools and a sophisticated water reticulation system - some dating to the Roman era - have been discovered at the site.

In 2015, UNESCO added Al-Maghtas to its World Heritage List.

Bader said that "around 200,000" tourists visited the site in 2022.

Christians represent six percent of Jordan's mostly Muslim population of about 10 million.