The chapel was abandoned over 50 years ago. Now its Franciscan caretakers have returned.
St. John the Baptist Chapel, on the West Bank, has announced that it will reopen for Mass in January 2021. For over 50 years, the site has been unapproachable because it was scattered with landmines. Now, after clearing the field, this historic site will begin to welcome tourists and pilgrims once more. The first Mass will be fittingly on the Feast of St. John the Baptist.
According to Crux Now, the site was the location of an altercation between Israel and several Arab countries in 1967. Known as the Six-Day War, the final decision of the conflict placed custodianship of the land in the hands of Israel, but both sides had buried landmines in the area. The site would see several more conflicts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but even once the fighting had stopped, the area was fenced off for fear of the minefield.
A long, dangerous process
Removal of the landmines was a slow process, which began with the signing of an international removal agreement in 1999. Jordan was the first country to complete landmine clearance. Israel’s landmine removal efforts on the West Bank began in 2016, and one of the first sites cleared was Qasr-al-Yahud, a spot along the Jordan River that some Christians believe is the site of John’s baptism of Jesus.
Other Church properties, including monasteries and St. John the Baptist Chapel, have remained off limits during the 5-year process. Now that the field is clear, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the previous caretakers of the chapel, have been able to retake possession of the property.
Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas, chancellor of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land announced that the first Mass will resume on January 10, 2021. He said:
“It will be a very special day. After all this time, we have come back. This gives us hope for peace. For us, this is a sign not to lose hope, not to lose hope for peace.”
The report goes on to note that the building, which has been untouched since it was abandoned in 1967, will not be repaired. The walls, pock marked with bullet holes, will stand as a testament to the endurance of the Church and the battles that ensued on the land. They do, however, plan to rejuvenate the garden areas in order to beautify the property.
Leonardo DiMarco, a civil engineer and the director of the technical office of the Custody, commented:
“This is the past history of the place, you can’t cancel those things. The door is full of bullet holes, the inside wooden doors. This will be part of the experience of the pilgrims. The place itself is telling something important,” said DiMarco. “It is important; this is a religious place, but not only. It is also a place which was in the middle of a fight.”