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Hundreds mark Jesus baptism at historic Jordan site

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa (R) sprinkles holy water from a wet branch on Catholic pilgrims as they attend a mass at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, near the site, where Jesus is believed to have been baptised
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa (R) sprinkles holy water from a wet branch on Catholic pilgrims as they attend a mass at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, near the site, where Jesus is believed to have been baptised Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa (R) sprinkles holy water from a wet branch on Catholic pilgrims as they attend a mass at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, near the site, where Jesus is believed to have been baptised AFP
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Wadi al-Kharrar (Jordan) (AFP)

Hundreds of Catholic worshippers attended a special mass Friday on the banks of the Jordan River in an annual pilgrimage to the site where many believe Jesus was baptised.

Before the ceremony started on the Jordanian side of the river, dozens of priests filled jugs at the water's edge as scouts played music.

Some 1,500 people attended the ceremony at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, an AFP photographer said, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Amman.

The mass was led by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

"By celebrating today in this holy place, the place of the baptism, we we are celebrating the presence of Jesus among us," said Pizzaballa, urging Christians worldwide to visit the site.

During the ceremony the priests dipped their fingers in the water they drew from the Jordan River and used it to bless the congregation, emulating the baptism of Jesus.

"Jordan is a unique example of coexistence, security and stability in the region," Pizzaballa said, urging worshippers to pray for peace in the region.

Wadi al-Kharrar, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan, is where biblical historians believe Jesus was baptised by his cousin, John the Baptist, and began his public ministry.

A ceremony held by Pope John Paul II at Wadi al-Kharrar in 2000 was taken by Jordanians as confirmation that this was the original baptismal site.

Another site on the Israeli-occupied western bank of the Jordan River is also venerated.

The remains of several churches, baptismal pools and a sophisticated water reticulation system -- some dating to the Roman era -- have been discovered in Wadi al-Kharrar.

In 2015, UNESCO added the site to its World Heritage List.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the world visit Wadi al-Kharrar and other sites in Jordan of interest to Christians each year.

Christians represent six percent of Jordan's mostly Muslim population of 9.5 million.

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