The opening of the Jordan River photography exhibition in the Catholic Church of St. Michael in Cologne, Germany this week began with a mass dedicated to the Jordan River. The extremely deteriorated state of the holy river was very touchingly remembered in light of the River’s central importance for Christianity, the baptism of Jesus and each individual’s own baptism.
Baptism is a sacred sacrament that millions of Christians undergo each year, reflecting the act that Jesus underwent himself in the Jordan River. During the mass, St. Michael’s Priest, Priest Klaus Bußmann, invited the participants to repeat their baptism by making the sign of the cross with blessed water.
Today, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come to the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized for the first time or to reaffirm their faith by repeating the act of baptism in the symbolic body of water. The majority of the pilgrims are transported with busses to a site constructed for this purposes at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. There, the tourist industry tries to keep up the shiny image of a holy Jordan River. But what pilgrims rarely glimpse is the river of sewage, saline water and agriculture run off that flows just meters south of the baptism site. Further south, near Jericho, access to the more authentic baptism site is severely restricted and the water quality is a public health hazard to pilgrims wishing to undergo baptism in the river.
The photography exhibition in the Catholic Church of St. Michael seeks to raise awareness about the urgent need to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River among communities of faith. The exhibition’s collection features pictures of the river itself and pilgrims being baptized in containers of water near the river, as the water is too polluted to enter.
During the exhibition’s opening event Global Nature Fund’s President, Marion Hammerl and the Palestinian Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, Nader Khateeb gave emotional speeches about the complexity of the state of the Jordan River. The River is a political border, a source of life and source of faith – and it is dying due to the diversion of nearly all of its fresh water.
The host of the event, Priest Andreas Brocke, underlined the importance of the Jordan River for Christianity and hopes that the exhibition will raise awareness about the serious condition of the River.
The Jordan River is deeply significant to Judaism, Christianity and Islam – with many significant religious and cultural heritage sites located along its banks. FoEME and GNF welcome the opportunity to show the exhibition in other community centers, synagogues, churches or mosques. For more information please visit FoEME’s webpage or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Silvia Jablonski, Global Nature Fund and Elizabeth Ya’ari, Jordan River Rehabilitation Project Coordinator at Friends of the Earth Middle East