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01/12/2021 Israel (International Christian Concern) – On Sunday, January 10, a Franciscan church reopened its doors for its first mass in 54 years. A small group of 50 guests attended the service at St. John the Baptist Chapel. The church is located on the banks of the Jordan River, near Qasr Al-Yahud, the baptismal site of Jesus.

The 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War left the chapel unusable with nearly 6,500 landmines in the surrounding area. For decades the chapel went unused and abandoned. In 2018, a UK-based non-profit, along with the Israeli authorities worked to clear the land for the church reopening.

Father James Patton lead the service time. He credited Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, with advocating for the restoration of the church and other holy sites. The location near Jesus’ baptismal site originally drew Franciscan friars to the area in 1641. In the 1920s they began building churches and other sites for pilgrimages.

The service included priests, guests, IDF soldiers and journalists. Worshipers gathered in song and ceremonial procession to the reopened gates and the banks of the Jordan River. Looking forward, Deputy Head of the Civil Administration Colonel Shai Karmona commented hoping that 2021 will allow for further restoration of the site’s buildings and even allowing for pilgrimage from the Jordanian side.

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