On the last full day of his visit to Jordan, the Pope has visited the place where tradition says Jesus was baptised by John. Accompanied by King Abdullah and Queen Rania, Benedict travelled to Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan. Some scholars cast doubt on the merits of the spot – there is a rival on the Israeli side of the Jordan, but ancient churches and baptismal pools discovered here bolster Bethany’s claims to be the true site.
Several Christian denominations have begun building new churches for modern pilgrims at Bethany. During his visit, the Pope assisted in the laying of the foundation stones for two new Catholic Churches. Earlier, the Pontiff celebrated Mass for 50,000 worshippers in Amman. He saluted what he called ‘the singular courage’ of Christians in the Holy Land, and urged them to preserve and strengthen their faith. Tomorrow comes the more delicate part of his tour – to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, where his every word will come under the closest scrutiny.