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Pope visits Jesus’ baptism site

AMMAN – POPE Benedict on Sunday visits the site believed to be where
Jesus was baptised 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 Pope 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 baptised 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 Jordanian side.

Archaeologists have found a number of churches, caves and
baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods since
excavations began.

He starts on Sunday, his last full day in Jordan, by
celebrating the first and only public Mass during his stay in the
country. On Monday, Pope 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.

On Saturday, Pope Benedict visited a mosque in another
attempt to mend fences with Islam after a speech he made in 2006 that
caused offence to Muslims.

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.

Addressing the pope, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal
reminded the pope of the ‘hurt’ Muslims around the world felt in 2006
after Pope Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was
irrational and violent.

Pope 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’. — REUTERS