Holy Christian site where Jesus possibly baptized cleared from landmines after 50-year shutdown

Qasr El Yahud
Qasr El Yahud, the baptismal site on the River Jordan, in this video from November 29, 2017. |

A church located in the Jordan River Valley in the West Bank, built near the site where Jesus is believed to have been baptized, has been opened to the pubic after being cleared from landmines.

Haaretz reported that a team of Israeli, Palestinian and Georgian deminers, who for years have been looking to rid the area from landmines, have managed to clear West Bank's Qasr al-Yahud site, opening it to the public after being shut for nearly 50 years.

Several other churches, sometimes called "ghost-churches," built near where John the Baptist is said to have met Jesus to baptize Him, remain closed. This is a consequence of the thousands of landmines and other booby-traps that were laid down in the 1967 war between Israel and Jordan.

Qasr al-Yahud, the Ethiopian church, was officially opened on Sunday, following the work of the Mine Action Authority, the Halo Foundation, and 4CI.

The deminers are hoping to clear several other monasteries by the end of 2019 and have them opened to the public as well. Only abut 50 out of 250 acres have been cleared up. Col. Max Nudelman from the Engineering Corps revealed that 1,000 mines have been cleared, but twice as many more remain hidden.

The baptism site of Christ is one of the holiest of Christian locations, along with the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Jesus is believed to have been born, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where His body is said to have been laid to rest after the crucifixion.

For centuries before the 1967 war, the Jordan river site attracted countless of pilgrims.

Qasr al-Yahud, which was built over a Byzantine-era church, has been renewed and abandoned on a number of occasions throughout the decades.

Moshe Hillman of the Mine Action Authority said of the insides of the house of worship: “When we opened the doors, we found an untouched world, with crosses, wheelbarrows, half-empty wine bottles.”

Ronen Shimoni, a West bank project manager with The Halo Trust, said last year: "Over 450,000 tourists from all over the world come to visit this site every year and Halo believes that after [the church area] is cleared and rebuilt, the local economy will benefit."

Shimoni added that the baptism site "has been mined back in the late 70s and for the last almost 50 years this area is declared as a closed military area and there is no access to the public and to pilgrims to come to pray and practice as they used to do."

The Jordan river otherwise continues to be used for mass baptisms, including by some popular figures, such as Christian film producer and minister DeVon Franklin.

Franklin revealed in January 2017 that he baptized three people there who asked him on the spot.

"I baptized three beautiful souls in the Jordan River! And the peace that fell on all of us was amazing," he said at the time.

"Remember, there's a peace when you step out of your comfort zone and live according to your calling!"

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