Pope Francis visits the Holy Land beginning this Saturday, May 24, on his second trip since becoming the head of the Roman Catholic Church last year. His first stop is in Jordan where he will visit the place -- at the Jordan River -- many Catholics believe Jesus was baptized and began his ministry. Pilgrims come from both sides of the river to renew their vows of faith.
This is an important stop during the pope's upcoming visit to Jordan, according to local guide Baker al-Ziadat. "This is holy land. And the people come here to [be] baptized in the river and to visit the churches," said al-Ziadat.
Lew and Leanne Kenah, from New Zealand, are on a weeklong trip to Jordan. "It's something very special for us, very special. It's a lot of historical and religious history. And we’re very surprised. I couldn't believe that it was so small, the river."
Archeologists have uncovered 1,500-year-old foundations of ancient churches. They believe this to be the actual site of Jesus' baptism before time changed the river’s course.
The pope also is to meet with refugees from the conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan has accepted hundreds of thousands of people displaced by war, notes the counselor at the Vatican embassy in Amman, Monsignor Mauricio Rueda.
"I think with this visit, his Holiness wishes to say, 'Thank you, Jordan.' Because this country has been very open for this humanitarian crisis," said Rueda. "Jordan has opened its doors to receive all our brothers. It's a sign of peace because the pope will meet all these refugees."
Pope Francis also will say mass at Amman's main stadium.
Simon Shomali, who runs a souvenir shop near the baptism site, said he hopes the pontiff will bring inspiration to the region. "We are Christians who are praying for the peace. We think people should respect the footsteps of Jesus, where he was living. Wherever he went, we can watch [follow] his footsteps," he said.
The Vatican said Francis will carry his message of peace across the river when he visits the West Bank and Israel [Bethlehem and Jerusalem] later in this trip.