QASR AL-YAHUD, West Bank (Reuters) – A shrine near the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism on the River Jordan hosted an Epiphany procession for the first time in more than 50 years on Sunday after it was declared free of landmines.
Father Francesco Patton, the custodian of the Holy Land for the Roman Catholic church, led Franciscan friars towards a shrine in what was once a war zone between Israel and Jordan.
Although the two countries have been at peace since 1994, seven churches laid abandoned for more than 50 years in the area of de-mining operations. The area lies about a kilometre from the Qasr al-Yahud baptism site in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which is a major draw for Christian pilgrims.
“Today, we are back to pray,” Father Ibrahim Faltas, one of the clergymen at the ceremony, said. Attendance at the procession, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, was capped at 50 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Israeli de-mining efforts began in 2018 and included support from the Halo Trust, a Scottish-based mine clearance group, an Israeli official said.
As of 2021, “the danger has been completely removed,” a branch of Israel’s defence ministry said.
After visiting the shrine, the friars passed fading signs reading “DANGER – MINES!” in English, Arabic and Hebrew as they went down to the river to pray.
(Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Alexander Smith)