For the first time, marking the day of the Christian pilgrimage to the Baptism Site, more than 6,000 pilgrims from various cities and villages of dear Jordan have arrived at the Baptism Site in commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of the pilgrimage that began by Pope John Paul II in 2000. This site was approved as a site for Christian pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee Year, along with four other sites, namely Mount Nebo, Mkawer, Our Lady of the Mount in Anjara, and Mar Elias in Ajloun.
The pilgrimage to the Baptism Site is characterized this year by being the first one performed after the Corona wave has receded at a time when it was associated with health measures and social distancing that was needed in the past year, namely 2022 when the number of participants was only 1,000 people, at a time when the church can accommodate more than 2,000 people. As for 2021, the year was marked by a large number of infection cases, and attendance was limited to 250 people. This year is the year of openness, and consequently there was a strong yearning among the masses of believers to come, to pray, and to be blessed by the holy waters of the Jordan River, marking the start of the pilgrimage season to this unique site.
Secondly: This year, the pilgrimage has been marked by the fact that international media outlets has not only highlighted the Baptism Site which was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2015, but also by the grand, historic and important project launched by His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein on December 7, 2022 which is called the “Development of Lands Adjacent to the Baptism Site Project,” on an area of approximately 1,400 acres. This project will mark the establishment of a new religious tourist village in that area which still lacks facilities needed for the arriving pilgrims who seek a place to rest and to have spiritual experience, as being said, in the wilderness of John the Baptist. Thus, the project will include several facilities for the visitors or pilgrims which would help them gain that desired spiritual experience. There will also be several hotels and restaurants that respect the unique environment of this place, in addition to a theater, museums and several other functionaries.
Thirdly: What is also remarkable this time is the participation of a number of bishops from different parts of Europe, North America, and South Africa in addition to members of the Commission of the Bishop's Conferences of the European Union. This commission is called the delegation of the Coordination of Bishops in Support of the Church of the Holy Land which started in 2005 to visit the Holy Land in accordance with the initiative by the late man of dialogue, namely Jean-Louis Tauran.
In short, this year marked the most impressive pilgrimage trip notably in this Church which will be launched at the end of this year, God willing. This church was the brainchild of Mr. Nadim Mu'asher and it was adopted by the Latin Church. We waited for a long time to bring this church into reality. Its foundation stone was laid by the late Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, while Pope Francis prayed in it in 2014, and this indicates the appreciation of the Catholic Church as a whole to this wonderful ecclesiastical, artistic, and spiritual masterpiece that will attract many pilgrims from all over the world.
So, we are waiting for the blooming spring of religious tourism to our dear Jordan. Let's wait, but let's work together to prepare well for that spring.