The 21st annual pilgrimage to the Baptism Site took place in 2021. However, it took place this year under exceptional circumstances, at a time when the epidemiological situation in Jordan and around the world has forestalled the presence of believers from various parishes, cities and villages, knowing that over the past 21 years there has been massive presence with thousands of people in attendance to celebrate the Christian pilgrimage Feast of Epiphany. However, the pandemic also blocked the presence of tourist and pilgrim friends of Jordan and of the world, to this unique site, which was officially inaugurated in the modern era in 2000 coinciding with the visit of Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, as well as of Pope Francis in 2014.
We thank God because the pilgrimage has taken place, even in symbolic numbers, and was distinguished by the presence of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa who is visiting Jordan for the first time as a patriarch, after he was custodian of the Holy Land (head of the Franciscan Order) in the Middle East region and after having visited Jordan several times in accordance with his duties. He was also the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate after his nomination as archbishop by Pope Francis, who renamed him as Latin patriarch of Jerusalem to be the 10th patriarch. His first official visit to Jordan began with this Mass celebrated at the Baptism Site.
What made this year distinguished is that the huge Church of the Baptism of Christ has undergone the final stages of construction with still a need for further financing, knowing that it has an area of 1,200 square meters and a height of 20 meters with a capacity to house 1,200 worshipers, in addition to two wings to be supervised by clergymen and nuns each of which is 2,000 square meters, with external courtyards of six dunums. Last year, the Hungarian government provided a good sum of money to complete some construction work. When construction is completed, the church will be very attractive to tourists, especially foreigners and Arabs and it will be a distinctive church and one of the most important churches in the world. As we always refer to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, we will also mention the Baptism Church on the bank of the Jordan River, in addition, of course, to the Russian Pilgrimage Center and other fraternal churches located at the site with some of which have been inaugurated, and others are still under construction.
The Baptism Site is a global Jordanian treasure, especially after it was added to the UNESCO's World Heritage List five years ago. Furthermore, an international advisory board was formed months ago to supervise developing the site. Great efforts are being exerted by various responsible functionaries, foremost of which is the Royal Commission of the Baptism Site whose Board of Trustees is chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Ben Mohammad, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Jordan Tourism Board, the National Tourism Council as well as the media and Church functionaries that have a prominent role in promoting this unique site. It is, of course, admitted that it is difficult nowadays to travel in order to promote the Baptism Site. Yet, but there are great hopes that in the aftermath of this pandemic and its ramifications--due to the availability of the vaccine and the commitment of citizens and people in general in the world to take precautionary measures--this pandemic will undoubtedly disappear and we will restore the status quo ante to promote this unique site, namely the Baptism Site in addition to the other important archaeological, touristic, and religious sites in our beloved Jordan.
As we have started in 2021 to celebrate the centenary of Jordan, this occasion invites us to launch several initiatives the most important of which is to be proud of the treasures that we own. It is legitimate to be proud that Lord Jesus Christ was baptized in the water of our river which is corroborated by several historical evidences. We have in the second place to visit this holy site throughout the year as individuals and families. Thirdly, we have--according to every one’s capacities--to invite friends from all parts of the world to visit the Baptism Site since a place with no people cannot be visited. Furthermore, we have to invite friends to visit the renowned archaeological and touristic since when such sites are not visited by tourists they lose their cultural and historical value. Their perfection lies in the presence of friends from all over the world. Truly, it is our great hope that Jordan’s centenary year will be the year that witnesses the thriving of tourism, especially religious tourism, to our holy country.