For Christians worldwide, the Site of the Baptism of Christ on the River Jordan is one of their faith’s holiest places. For hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists it is a crucial part of any visit to the Holy Land. But for over 50 years it was also a vast minefield.
After the Six Day War in 1967, the border between the West Bank and Jordan was heavily mined. This included the churches and compounds of eight Christian denominations at the site of the Baptism of Christ at a place known as Qaser al-Yahud. For over five decades no worshippers could enter the churches and the clergy had to stay away as their buildings decayed.
"In a region troubled by division, clearing landmines at this holy site is a rare symbol of hope and reconciliation. "
In 2016, HALO secured the approval of the Israelis, Palestinians and all the churches to clear landmines at Qaser al-Yahud. The Roman Catholic Church and seven Eastern churches—Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Romanian, Syrian and Russian—have churches or land on the minefield.
HALO launched a global fundraising campaign to support the clearance and, with donations from church leaders, philanthropists, congregations and the Israeli President’s office, was able to start clearance work in March 2018.
Fr. Francesco Patton, Franciscan Church
In October 2018, HALO deminers were the first people to enter the Franciscan Church in over 50 years. Inside they discovered a fascinating insight into the daily lives of the priests—crockery, food and religious artefacts frozen in time. Once the church was made safe, Fr. Francesco Patten was able to visit, the first clergyman to set foot here since the priests were forced to flee during the 1967 Six Day War.
As of Autumn 2019, work continues to clear the landmines and unexploded debris in and around the church compounds. The minefield covers around 250 acres and contains an estimated 2,600 landmines. HALO also had to make the churches safe from booby-traps and other devices.
Once the area is made entirely safe and handed back to the churches, they will be refurbished to serve the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who visit the Baptism Site each year.