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Christ’s Baptismal Site registered at Humanity Heritage

Christ’s Baptismal Site registered at Humanity Heritage

JORDAN – On February 2, 2016, a ceremony in Paris witnessed the official recognition by UNESCO of Christ’s Baptismal Site at Al Maghtas in Jordan, classified at the World Heritage of Humanity in July 2015.

The site Al Maghtas in the Wadi Kharrar Valley in Jordan is mentioned in the Gospel of St. John (10, 40): “Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed”. Most of the Christian churches recognize this place as the one where John the Baptist baptized Christ, based on a thousand year old tradition. The site holds several excavation areas with Roman and Byzantine ruins, traces of ancient hermits and pilgrims dating back to the IVth century: “Bethany beyond Jordan” represents vividly the tradition of baptism, an important sacrament in the Christian faith, and with it the on-going practice of pilgrimage on the site. This tradition is illustrated by archaeological evidence which goes back to the 5th Century the practice of baptism”.

The ceremony in Paris witnessed this decision adopted by the Commission of World Heritage during the 39th session in June and July 2015 in Bonn, Germany.  The Commission “encouraged the neighboring member State, Palestine, to secure the protection of the West Bank of the Jordan River in order to safeguard the views and boundaries of the site”. A delegation from the Kingdom of Jordan was invited to this evening, composed of Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders, in presence of the Jordanian Minister of Tourism Mr. Nayef Hamdi Al Fayez and the Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan, Bishop Maroun Lahham. The delegation travelled to France to meet tourism experts in order to promote Jordan as touristic destination and to address the issue of decreasing numbers of French tourists in the country.

Bishop Lahham thanked the personalities and institutions which made possible this recognition of the Baptismal Site at the Heritage of Humanity: “This evening UNESCO declares officially the site of baptism in Jordan as “world heritage”. The Gospel mentioned it two thousand years ago, the popular piety has always confirmed it, the archaeological findings put it in evidence, four Popes visited it, and today the international community declares it officially. As of this evening, we can proclaim strong and loud that Jordan is a holy land (…) Next step? Here it goes: on behalf of my friends of the Jordanian official delegation, and in the name of the Church, I send forth an invitation for you to come to Jordan, to visit the Baptismal site. You will find a country that is quiet and secure, in the midst of a troubled Middle East. You will find that the Jordanian people are open, welcoming and hospitable. Should you be a believer, you will find in the Baptismal site an extra measure of faith in a place which still echoes the voice of Christ”.

The official recognition of this site is a chance for Jordan, visited each year by some 5 million tourists and pilgrims. Until the end of 2016 the country should hand over to the Commission a report relating to the implementation of its recommendations relating to the protection of the site.

Thomas Charrière

Photo: The visit of Pope Francis to Jordan in May 2014