Welcome to Times will Tell, the newly rebranded weekly podcast from The Times of Israel. This week we go onsite to Qasr Al-Yahud on the banks of the Jordan River, where Christians believe Jesus was baptized. We attended the first mass in 54 years at a Franciscan church called the St. John the Baptist Chapel.
Along with another dozen or so churches on both sides of the Jordan near Jericho, the chapel commemorates Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist. This January 10 was the date on which the Catholic church marks the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord or Theophany. Meaning, the priests were commemorating the day of Jesus’s baptism at the place where he was meant to have been baptized some 2,000 years ago.
Why has it been so long since the monks were able to hold mass here? The Franciscans only received permission to re-enter the church compound in October because during the 1967 Six Day War, the entire Qasr Al-Yahud baptismal site area was littered with thousands of landmines. In a cooperative, multi-year mission between the UK-based Halo Trust and the IDF, the entire area has been cleared.
It was a coronavirus-friendly event, with masks and pods of priests and guests, accompanied by IDF soldiers and officers.
We speak first with Father Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, follow the ceremonial procession to the chapel, and then hear from Deputy Head of the Civil Administration Colonel Shai Karmona.