After reaching an agreement with all the Christian denominations, the British charity, the Halo Trust, has embarked on a project to clear mines and unexploded ordinance from one of the most sacred Christian sites in the world, where Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan. The one square kilometer site that contains 7 churches and monasteries has been a no-go area for almost 50 years after thousands of mines and booby traps were laid during the 1967 war. The Chief Executive of the Halo Trust, Major General James Cowan, spoke to Susy Hodges of Vatican Radio about this landmark project.
Cowan says the Halo Trust is “very excited” about this important and hugely symbolic project to clear thousands of mines and unexploded ordinance from Jesus’ baptism site along the western bank of the River Jordan. He explained how access to this sacred site, known as Qasr Al-Yahud, with its 7 churches and monasteries, “has been denied to Christians” ever since the 6-day war Arab-Israeli war when the area was heavily mined and booby traps were planted around the churches.
Cowan explained that the Trust has been working “very hard” with both the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities and all the Christian denominations that have churches on the sacred site to acquire permission for the de-mining operation to go-ahead. Among the 7 churches and monasteries on the mined site is a Franciscan Catholic church. He pointed out that in 2000 ahead of Pope Saint John Paul’s visit to the River Jordan, a very small area of the mined site was cleared to allow a narrow access to the river enabling pilgrims to come and visit but said “the vast majority (of the site) remains mined.”
Describing the project as an example of a “great ecumenical cooperative spirit”, Cowan said it’s “very uplifting” that this sacred site (where churches were first constructed in 400 AD) is being “returned to its proper use.” He acknowledged that the negotiations with the various parties were a delicate operation as they are “all aware of how sensitive politics are on the West Bank.” One problem that still remains, said Cowan, is raising the 3 million dollars needed to complete the de-mining operations and he is appealing to all Christians to help fund this project.
Source: Vatican Radio
Pic: View of Franciscan church in mined area of Jesus’ baptism site by River Jordan. Photo by Halo Trust.