AMMAN (Reuters) – Pope Benedict on Sunday visits the site believed to
be where Jesus was baptized as he wraps up his visit to Jordan and
prepares to leave for Israel to start the most delicate part of his
first Middle East trip.
On Sunday afternoon Benedict travels east of the Jordanian capital
Amman to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Jordanian experts have
unearthed ruins of ancient churches amid the tamarisk trees and found
early pilgrims’ writings about the site.
Here, according to tradition, was where John the Baptist lived and
where he baptized Jesus when Jesus was about 30 years old. New
archaeological evidence was found in 1996.
A rival site exists on the Israel side of the Jordan River but most
scholars believe the Biblical site for the cleansing ritual was on the
Archaeologists have found a number of churches, caves and baptismal
pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods since excavations
Christian denominations have begun building new churches for modern
pilgrims nearby. Benedict will lay cornerstones for two Catholic
He starts Sunday, his last full day in Jordan, by celebrating the first and only public Mass during his stay in the country.
On Monday, Benedict moves on to Israel and the Palestinian
territories for the most delicate part of his trip, whose main theme so
far has been Christian-Muslim relations.
MENDING FENCES WITH ISLAM
On Saturday, Benedict visited a mosque in another attempt to mend
fences with Islam after a speech he made in 2006 that caused offence to
Speaking at the modern King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, he
struck a note of harmony and shared purpose between the world’s two
largest faith groups, urging Christians and Muslims to jointly defend
religion from political manipulation.
“I firmly believe Christians and Muslims can embrace (the task of
cooperation), particularly through our respective contributions to
learning and scholarship, and public service,” he told Islamic leaders
and diplomats at the mosque.
Addressing the pope, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal reminded
the pope of the “hurt” Muslims around the world felt in 2006 after
Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was irrational and
Ghazi, a cousin of Jordanian King Abdullah, told the gathering the
Muslim world “appreciated” the Vatican’s clarification and accepted
that the pope was not expressing his own opinion at the time but making
an historical citation.
In one section of his address at the mosque, Benedict referred to
God as “merciful and compassionate,” using the formula Muslims use when
speaking of God.
Benedict said while no one could deny a history of tensions and
divisions, Christians and Muslims should prevent “the manipulation of
religion, sometimes for political ends.”
“That is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society.”