CNEWA Canada

Encountering Christians in the Holy Land: On Jordan’s Bank

On 29 June, the C.W.L. and CNEWA pilgrimage group headed to the Jordan River, where according to Scripture John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water “in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:28)

Since our pilgrimage took us only to Israel and Palestine, we stayed on the west bank of the river, across from the Jordanian park Pope John Paul II had inaugurated in the year 2000. As with most of the Holy Sites we visited, the Israeli site marking Jesus’ baptism has its own history. Unlike most, it is an Israeli National Park and is not cared for by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land or the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic patriarchates.

The site has been open for only two years. Since the conclusion of the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, the entire border has been a military zone with fences, mines and soldiers.

Thankfully, we were privileged to drive to the site — well below sea level — under a scorching sun without any problems. Father Geoffrey Kerslake led us in prayer as we renewed our baptismal vows, and afterward invited us to take a dip in the river. It was an emotional experience as we then headed for the desert, the same desert where Jesus retreated for 40 days.

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