Pope Francis Hears of Campaign to Clear Mines from the Baptism Site

VATICAN CITY - His Holiness Pope Francis today listened to news of a unique multi-faith campaign to clear landmines from the Baptism Site of Christ.
During an audience with the Pope, Major General James Cowan, CEO of the HALO Trust described to The Holy Father the project to clear thousands of mines from churches, monasteries and sacred land on the West Bank of the River Jordan, explaining that it is an important symbol of religious harmony at a time of great conflict in the region.  In subsequent meetings with Vatican officials, The Holy See gave further helpful guidance and support to the project.
The HALO Trust, the world's largest humanitarian landmine clearance organisation, is confirming the agreement of the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to clear an estimated 2,600 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines that were laid at the Baptism Site during the 1967 War.
The mines surround sacred sites owned by the Roman Catholic church and the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Romanian,  Armenian, Russian and Syrian orthodox churches. Many of the buildings are understood to contain booby-traps.
The area around the church buildings to be cleared is around one million square metres - equivalent to around 138 football pitches. The clearance team will be composed of Palestinians, Israelis and Georgians.

James Cowan, HALO's CEO said:

The Holy Father was incredibly generous with his time and listened with interest to the plans we have to clear the Baptism site. His engagement has the potential to galvanise the global Roman Catholic community in support of the project. For HALO one of the most important aspects of the campaign to clear the site is the multi-faith nature of the support for it. We are greatly heartened to have the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the other Orthodox Church leaders in Jerusalem and now The Holy See. Our desire now is raise the necessary money to finance the project; we have already made a good start, but the support of The Holy Father and the Catholic Church will significantly increase global support for this historic project.
At present, a narrow path leads through the minefield to the river and is visited by more than 460,000 pilgrims each year. With access to the churches restored for the first time in 50 years, tourist and pilgrim numbers are likely to increase - benefitting the economy of the local area. 

For a high-resolution image, please email Louise Vaughan at louise.vaughan@halotrust.org