POPE VISITS PLACE WHERE THE LORD WAS BAPTIZED

VATICAN CITY, MAR 21, 2000 (VIS) - At 3:15 p.m. today, the Pope travelled by helicopter from the apostolic nunciature of Amman to Wadi Al-Kharrar, in the Jordan Valley where he made a visit and presided at a brief liturgical ceremony.

Also known as 'Bethany in Transjordan,' not to be confused with the town of Bethany in Israel (house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus), Wadi Al-Kharrar lies 350 meters below the level of the Mediterranean and a few kilometers from the Dead Sea and, according to Scripture, it was "in Bethany, beyond the River Jordan where John was baptizing." Important archeological excavations, linked with the idea of the place of Jesus' Baptism, have taken place on this site.

On the banks of the Jordan, in the presence of 2,000 people, John Paul II pronounced a prayer of blessing to the Holy Trinity, recalling the Baptism of Jesus. Prior to the prayer he said: "In the Gospel of St. Luke we read that 'the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.' Here, at the River Jordan, where both banks are visited by hosts of pilgrims honoring the Baptism of the Lord, I too lift up my heart in prayer."

After the service, the Holy Father was scheduled to travel by helicopter to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman where, following a farewell ceremony with King Abdallah II of Jordan and religious and civil authorities, he will depart for Tel Aviv, Israel.