Pope To Pray At Supposed Baptism Site In Jordan

05.07.09 | FL News Team

Pope Benedict the 16th's visit to the Holy Land is expected to throw a lot of weight behind one of two competing sites along the Jordan River that both claim to be the spot where Jesus Christ was baptized. For centuries Christians have been flocking to Qasr al Yahud, a site that lies on the Israeli occupied West Bank. However, experts now say the Bible and early Christian writings point to another location on the river's east bank, placing the holy site inside the country of Jordan.

The location now known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan sat in a closed military zone until 1994. Then in the late '90s excavations uncovered the remnants of five churches and a set of stairs leading down into the river that were described in early Christian accounts dating as far back at the fourth century A.D. It is this location Pope Benedict will visit Sunday to pray near the muddy waters of the now-narrow Jordan River.  The Pontiff will also lay the cornerstones for two nearby churches before continuing on his tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. 

Unlike his predecessor, Pope John Paul the Second, Benedict does not plan to pay a visit to the supposed baptismal site on the West Bank. The Jordanian government believes the Pope's visit will help cement Bethany's role as a key Holy Land pilgrimage site. Officials there hope it will boost tourism and bolster a dwindling Christian minority in the primarily Muslim nation. Pope Benedict's trip to the Holy Land begins tomorrow and lasts until May 15th.