Church of St. John the Baptist at Qasr el-Yahud celebrates its first mass in 54 years

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Fransciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land came together on January 10th 2021 to celebrate mass, for the first time in 54 years, at the Church of St.John the Baptist at Qasr el-Yahud, on the western bank of the Jordan River.

Qasr el-Yahud is considered to be the site where, according to the New Testament, John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Matthew, 3: 13-17). The site is also considered to be the place where the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan when they entered Canaan.

In the years 2008-2010, the Israel Ministry of Tourism, through the Israel Government Tourism Corporation (IGTC), invested approximately NIS 8 million in upgrading the Qasr el-Yahud baptism site on the River Jordan. This included, among others, infrastructure improvements to allow easy access for pilgrims and tourists, a safe descent into the river, spaces for gatherings and ceremonies.

Following the recent completion of a project to clear the area of mines with the help of the British HALO Trust in order to allow access to the many monasteries and churches in the area, the IGTC completed the upgrade of the site. The NIS 1million upgrades include increased capacity for tour buses, additional shaded areas for gatherings and special access for the disabled, including a special immersion basin for those unable to enter the river, more bathroom facilities etc. In October 2020, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and Christian churches were able to take possession of their properties.

Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, at today’s ceremony: “Firstly, I would like to express my thanks to the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Rivlin. He is the first person who came here and had the idea of handing this place over to the church. In the many meetings that brought us together with President Rivlin, he had a dream that the two banks would meet each other and that this place would be an oasis of peace that would bring together Israel, Jordan and Palestine so that everyone could pray in this oasis.
We thank President Rivlin for all the efforts he has made, which have resulted in this place being returned to us. This place was a war zone and has become a place of prayer for everyone to pray and be a holy place. We, the Custodians of the Holy Land, are very happy that the monastery has returned to us, as this is the first monastery among the churches here, and it is a Franciscan monastery.”

The Land of the Monasteries project at Qasr el-Yahud, initiated by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, will, in his words “turn this place of prayer and holiness on the Jordan River to a place of peace, faith and cooperation for all of us, for our children and for all children of God. Developing this site will be an important step in building bridges between peoples and religions and will allow the vision of co-existence to become a reality.” It is hoped that the Land of the Monasteries project will be launched during 2021.

Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen, “Christian tourists account for more than half of Israel’s incoming tourism. I am certain that when the skies open we will once again see groups of believers and Christian families from around the world visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem and Nazareth, baptizing in the Jordan River and sailing on the Sea of Galilee, and touring the Judean Desert, Megiddo, and the entire country.”

The number of pilgrims visiting Qasr el-Yahud has grown significantly and consistently over the years since the improvements to access and infrastructure – thirteen-fold from 2010-2019. In 2019, nearly 875,000 pilgrims and tourists visited the site (92% were incoming tourists).

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