Pope John Paul II first traveled to Jordan during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the Great Jubilee year 2000. His Holiness opened his visit atop Mount Nebo, the site where Moses stood and gazed into the Promised Land. Praying on behalf of "Jews, Muslims and Christians," he blessed the land of Jordan and asked God to "bestow upon all who live here the gift of a true peace, justice and fraternity."
Today, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is proud of its homegrown tradition of tolerance and interfaith harmony. Today, Catholic pilgrims are welcome to visit the sites of earliest Christianity, including the spot where Jesus began his ministry. Pope John Paul II designated the five sites in Jordan which as official destinations of catholic pilgrimage, with special spiritual blessings for those who make the visit to all five sites in Holy Jordan.
Jesus Christ was baptized in "Bethany Beyond the Jordan" (John 1:28), in the place where John the Baptist lived and preached. Today, the Baptism Site (or Al-Maghtas in Arabic) feels like stepping into the pages of the New Testament, with wildflowers in spring and buzzing honeybees among the reeds and palms. Old stone churches and pathways reveal the pilgrims' path through the Jordan Valley. Plan for at least a half-day in order to visit the entire site (including John the Baptist's cave and the hill where Elijah ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire). Visitors wanting to be baptized (or baptize infants) should contact the site beforehand to arrange for a Catholic priest.
The Old Testament says that Moses was buried somewhere on Mount Nebo, although the exact location remains a mystery. Revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians, the site is managed by the Franciscans, whose contemporary monastery tastefully preserves the marvelous 6th-century mosaics on the chapel floor. Pathways lead through a grove of fragrant olive trees and among the older ruins of the monastery, while the museum and gallery offer a deeper historical context of this two-thousand-year-old pilgrimage site. To catch a glimpse of the same view Moses had, walk out to the edge of the peak, some 2,631 feet (710 meters) above sea level.
Tel Mar Elias
Just outside the town of Ajloun, "Elijah's Mound" is the place where early Christians believed the prophet Elijah the Tishbite was born. Historically, this is the land of Gilead (as in, "Balm of Gilead"), and at least two separate Christian churches were built on the spot. Stone steps lead up to the larger church ruins that include mosaics dating back to the 6th century. The panoramic view atop the mound offers a great perspective towards Ajloun Castle (from the Crusader era) and the evergreen forests of northern Jordan. Venture down to the lower level to the rock wall and flowing spring to find a small shrine meant for quiet prayer and contemplation.
The sprawling stone ruins of Herod's desert castle rest atop this barren beige mountaintop near the Dead Sea. Once home to Herod the Great, and then his son Herod Antipas, the palace-fortress, is where John the Baptist was betrayed and beheaded (Matthew 14:8). Now considered a site of Christian martyrdom, pilgrims follow the long curving slope around the mountain up to the plateau at the top. The ancient palace ruins are extensive, including a stark dungeon where some archeologists believe John the Baptist was imprisoned before his execution.
Our Lady of the Mount in Anjara
Perhaps the least-known and least-visited of the five catholic sites, Our Lady of the Mount Church is located in the tiny village of Anjara, just outside the historic city of Ajloun. Early Christian writings maintain that the Virgin Mary accompanied Jesus as they passed through these mountains on their way from Jerusalem to Galilee. The traditional pilgrimage gathering for Jordanian Catholics is on June 18th.
The events and lessons of the Holy Scriptures flow through the landscape much like the river that bears the country's name. If you want to walk in the footsteps of the Prophets and truly immerse yourself in the stories of the Bible, Jordan is the destination.
To learn more about the biblical history and events in Jordan, please visit www.holyjordan.com