In the footsteps of Jesus “beyond the Jordan”: how Jordan wants to attract Christians

“Experiencing a conference in Jordan is a major event

In the footsteps of Jesus “beyond the Jordan”: how Jordan wants to attract Christians

“Experiencing a conference in Jordan is a major event. This will allow us to develop the arrival of pilgrims in this country, following in the footsteps of Abraham, our common father in the faith, of Moses, of the great prophets, of John the Baptist,” listed the auxiliary bishop of Bordeaux, Jean-Marie. Le Vert, at the opening of the congress of the National Association of Diocesan Directors of Pilgrimages (ANDDP), which was held on November 13 or 18.

For the first time in its eighty-five years of existence, the association, which brings together those responsible for French Catholic pilgrimages, organized its annual congress in Jordan. This is only the third time that the event has been held outside Europe, after Lebanon in 2005 and Israel-Palestine in 2011. The ANDDP thus responded to an invitation issued three years ago by King Abdullah II, whose the government intends, despite an explosive regional context, to make Jordan a popular land of pilgrimage for Christians.

The baptism of Christ

The Hashemite kingdom, where Sunni Islam is the religion of the state and of more than 90% of the population, claims on its soil numerous sites attesting to the long Christian history of the country, and even several places with biblical references – starting with the presumed site of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist.

Located not far from the northern shore of the Dead Sea, the place has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. “It is an extremely important place for us. It represents the place where Jesus began his public life and where, for the first time, the Holy Trinity manifested itself [in the Gospels, during the baptism of Jesus, a voice interpreted as that of the “Father” designates Jesus as his “Son” and brings down on him the “Holy Spirit”],” underlines Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, apostolic nuncio to Jordan – equivalent to the Vatican ambassador.

Accessible to tourists provided they are accompanied by a guide and do not deviate from the route set by the authorities – the border with Israel and the West Bank is only 300 meters away – the site is therefore worth seeing , after a short walk in the shade of willows and tamarisks, a stone staircase sinking into a small pond, the last aquatic vestige of what was, two thousand years ago, a vigorous tributary of the Jordan (in a region now hit by increasing drought).

The place is in competition with another located on the opposite bank, developed by the Israeli government. But many Christians – including the Catholic Church – see in this Jordanian site the “Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized”, mentioned in the Gospels (Jn 1:28). If its authenticity is not recognized by historians – any more than that of any other place – the site is mentioned as early as the 4th century in the stories of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, an anonymous traveler who traveled the region around the year 333. Excavations started in 1994 also attest that it represented an important place for Christians of the Byzantine era (around 4th-8th century), who installed churches and baptisteries there.