For the first time in a century, a large procession of over 1,000 worshippers participated in the holding of a traditional baptismal ceremony by the Franciscan Order in the Land of the Monasteries.
By Erin Viner
According to a statement TV7 received from the Spokesperson’s Office of the Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the event was held under the guidance of the Civil Administration and the Nature and Parks Authority, and safeguarded by IDF soldiers and the Israel Police at the Qasr al-Yahud Baptism Site on the Jordan River.
Christian tradition reveres Qasr al-Yahud as where Jesus was baptized, and it has long been a pilgrimage destination.
The occasion marks only the second time in 100 years the procession was allowed into the Land of the Monasteries, which had long been abandoned due to conflict.
The biblical riverbanks were once a war zone between Israel and Jordan, and unexploded landmines and other ordnance littered the vicinity. Even though the two neighbors signed a peace treaty in 1994, it took a massive effort to ensure clearance and defusal.
A mission to remove all danger from the area was completed over the past 2 years in a joint effort by Israel’s Ministry of Defense, the IDF, and the Civil Administration.
“In recent weeks, [COGAT’s] Jericho District Coordination and Liaison (DCL) has coordinated with all the security forces and with the [Israeli] Ministry of Health in order to arrange for the baptism ceremony,” underscored the COGAT statement, emphasizing that “The broader purpose was to allow for the traditional ceremonies to be held within the guidelines of the Ministry of Health while ensuring the freedom of worship and the security of the faithful.”
The service began with the welcoming of the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton, by DCL Chief, Lieutenant Colonel Amos Twito.
“Despite the challenges posed to us in these coronavirus times, the Civil Administration is working in order to preserve religious freedom and the holding of traditional religious ceremonies. We will continue the work of coordinating the traditional baptism ceremonies for the other Christian denominations and to preserve the freedom of worship and of religion for all believers within the guidelines and limitations of the Ministry of Health,” said Col. Twito, who also took the “opportunity to wish all Christians a Happy New Year.”