JERUSALEM, Israel – More than 20,000 Christian pilgrims flocked to the Jordan River this weekend to get baptized in the same spot where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus. It's also thought to be the place where the children of Israel crossed over into the Promised Land and the site where Elijah ascended to heaven.
They were there to commemorate the Feast of the Epiphany, a day Catholics and Orthodox Christians observe to celebrate when the three Magi visited baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles as foretold by Scripture.
Christian pilgrims participated in several ceremonies throughout Saturday and Sunday at the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site on the Jordan River. It is one of the holiest sites for Christians and thousands of believers come here every year to declare their faith in Jesus through baptism.
Five Christian denominations have held baptismal ceremonies at the Jordan river since January, and Coptic and Armenian Christians are expected to hold events there later this month, The Jerusalem Post reports.
“The Civil Administration put much effort in order to prepare for these important ceremonies as part of its program to preserve freedom of religion and worship for all Christian denominations. Thanks to the ceremonies, we see a marked rise in tourism alongside a boost to the economy, for which I am thankful. On this occasion, I would like to wish all members of the Christian community happy holidays,” said Lieutenant Colonel Eran Gross.
Not far from the baptismal site is the “Land of the Monasteries,” a 250-acre area that remained off-limits to pilgrims for years because it was laced with landmines left over from past conflicts like the Six-Day War. The Land of the Monasteries is a project aimed at developing and preserving abandoned monasteries and churches along the Jordan River close to the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
President Reuven Rivlin told Christian leaders in December that the Land of the Monasteries will be open in after Israel finishes clearing all the landmines this year.
“We are about to finish clearing all of the mines from the Land of the Monasteries at the very beginning of the coming year. Already the number of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land is increasing each year. Just this year, close to 900,000 pilgrims visited the Land of Monasteries. We are working hard to complete the development of the entire area by the end of 2020.”
He also called on Jews and Christians to defend each other against anti-Semitism and Christian persecution.
“Just like anti-Jewish prejudice is not Christian, anti-Christian prejudice is not Jewish. We must recommit ourselves to countering all acts of hatred, incitement and violence, between religious communities in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Sadly, again this year, Christians were killed in the Middle East, simply for keeping their faith. Jerusalem must serve as a model for peace and harmony between religions.”