The Christmas festivities have come to an end with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated on Sunday 7 November on the banks of the River Jordan.
With the end of the celebrations of the Epiphany yesterday in Bethlehem, the Franciscan community gathered, with other religious and some parish groups, near the site known by the Arabic name of “Qasr al-Yahud”, or “citadel of the Jews”, probably in memory of when the Israelites crossed the river to arrive in the Promised Land (Gen. 3,14-17). Here, on the west bank of the River Jordan, is the place where Jesus was immersed in the water to receive baptism from the hand of John the Baptist, before undergoing the ordeal of the temptations and then beginning his mission of preaching he Kingdom of God.
The Procession and the celebration of the Eucharist
The Custos of the Holy Land, fra Francesco Patton, accompanied by the Vicar, fra Ibrahim Faltas, and the parish priest of the community of Jericho, fra Mario Maria Hadchiti, went first of all in a procession together with the friars towards the Franciscan shrine of the baptism of Jesus, where there is the church dedicated to St John the Baptist, for the celebration of Holy Mass.
The Eucharistic celebration, solemnly presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land, was also attended by the Italian Consul Domenico Bellato, the Deputy Consul Generals of Spain, Luis Pertusa, and of France, Quentin Lopinôt and the Head of Political Affairs of Belgium, Ingmar Samyn, with other civil and military representatives.
We are all children of the same Father
In his homily, the Custos of the Holy Land invited the faithful to discover the parallelism between the baptism of Jesus and his death: “On his baptism the Heavens will be torn and the divine space opens up, on his death the veil of the sanctuary will be torn in two (Mark 15,38) and a new possibility will open up in Jesus Crucified to meet God,” said the Custos. “It is God himself who bears witness at the baptism here on the River Jordan: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1,11), under the cross on Golgotha, in Jerusalem, it will be a pagan centurion who acknowledges: "Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15,39).”.
In the words of fra Patton there was also the invitation to reflect, thanks to the gift of the Spirit, on the Christian vocation, “ which consists of having become children of God thanks to the faith, and having accepted the commandment of love: “Those who love he who generated also love those he generated. From this we know we love the children of God; if we love God and we observe his commandments.”
The Custos concluded his homily with a prayer and an invocation for peace in the Holy Land: “Here, on the Jordan, where the Son of God revealed to us that we are all also children of the same Father, may the power of the Spirit that transforms peoples who are hostile and different into brother peoples who belong to the same family of the children of God and to the same human fraternity, appear once again.”
During the celebration, sentiment and emotion accompanied the moment when the small Nicolas Giovanni, of the parish of Jerusalem, was baptized by the Custos of the Holy Land with the water of the Jordan, which was then sprinkled on all those gathered there.
After 57 years, the solemn opening of the gate of access to the river
When the Mass was over, after 57 years, the gate that allows direct access to the River Jordan, through a field that was only recently reclaimed, was blessed and opened: “This is a very important moment because I remember that a few years ago this field was full of mines,” fra Patton pointed out.
In 1967, the war between Israel and Jordan greatly affected the area, to the point that it became a minefield and the Franciscans were forced to flee in great haste.
“The site,” the Custos continued, “was not reopened for celebrations until January 2021, but there was still this part full of mines which prevented us from walking directly from the shrine to the river: now that the last stretch has been demined, we can say that this whole area has been transformed from a battlefield into a field of peace. This means that it is also possible to overcome the languages of war and the language of weapons and transform even what are battlefields into fields of brotherly co-existence.”
All the friars then went in a procession to the river banks through this gate which is finally open, before returning to Jerusalem.