A church near where Jesus was said to be baptised in the River Jordan is ready to welcome visitors again for the first time in half a century. And despite the lengthy abandonment, the Romanian Orthodox church has retained much of its historic beauty.
The reason no one has visited the holy site also containing several other churches is due to the fact that they are surrounded by almost 5,000 landmines. These are the unwelcome legacy of the ‘Six-Day War’ which ended with an uneasy peace back in 1967 but not before both Jordanian and Israeli militaries had land-mined the whole area. Subsequently, the two nations signed a peace agreement 27 years later but neither side removed their mines at that stage. CNN reports that even from the safe distance of a nearby dirt road, the series of anti-tank mine rows are still visible in the cracked soil. There is an added fear that on top of the unexploded mines, the churches too could have been booby-trapped.
However, the HALO Trust, which removes landmines, has now been given the go-ahead from the Israelis, seven Christian denominations with churches in the location and Palestinians to begin taking up the unexploded weaponry. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and all Palestine, Theophilos III, remembers visiting the site as a young person before it was ruled off limits. He said it was a “very special place” with a sacred history connected to Moses and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, his death by crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem.