(CNS) -- Along the western banks of the Jordan River, the place of Christ's
baptism and today known as Qasr al-Yahud, numerous churches and monasteries of
different religions sit vacant and silenced due to the dangerous landmines that
lie beneath them.
almost 50 years, Qasr al-Yahud has been empty due to the landmines installed
during the 1967 Six Day war between the Arabs and the Israeli people.
Trust, a nonprofit organization, has worked to remove the landmines in the Qasr
al-Yahud area since 2012. The group is dedicated to providing save environments
for those living in areas surrounded by landmines through landmine removal, as
well as assisting in local community rebuilding in the aftermath of war.
work has brought together various religious denominations in efforts to
preserve the sacred churches, such as the Coptic church, the Franciscan church
and the Syrian church, that all sit on the site of Qasr al-Yahud.
got agreements with the eight churches, we've got agreements with the Israeli
government, and we've got agreements with the Palestinian authorities," said
Adam Jasinski, executive director of Halo Trust, in an interview with Catholic
News Service July 15.
spoke about the Jordan River landmine removal in a seminar at the Franciscan
Monastery of the Holy Land in America as part of its fourth annual Holy Land
Festival held July 15.
festival cultivates a conversation of hope around the Holy Land, with many
groups coming together to engage visitors with the situation of Christians and
of peace in the Holy Land.
Jim Gardiner, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement as well as a member of the
Holy Land Committee of the Archdiocese of Washington, spoke to CNS about how the
festival brought together so many different groups of people.
knows who is Christian, Muslim or Catholic," Father Gardiner said.
interdenominational environment at the festival was a mere taste of what takes
place at Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land. Two
Bethlehem University students, Lela Abu Ayyash and Lara Kasbari, spoke about
their experiences living and going to school in Palestine during the Holy Land
festival in a seminar.
University contributes to a peaceful conversation among its 3,200 students, 77
percent of whom are Muslim and 23 percent, Christian.
atmosphere that the university provides is very welcoming," said Kasbari,
a senior business administration student at Bethlehem University who is
interning with the Christian Brothers Conference this summer. "There are
students coming from villages or towns that don't have Christians in them, when
they come to Bethlehem University, (it) might be the first time that they
actually meet a Christian, and they are surprised. ... Bethlehem University
really opens up that chance for Muslims to meet Christians and a chance for
dialogue, for interreligious dialogue."
also mentioned how Bethlehem University further promotes this dialogue through
mandatory courses where Muslims can learn more about Christianity and
Christians can learn more about Islam, providing peaceful "tolerance."
university also hosts several prayer hours throughout the week where Christians
can go to a church and Muslims can go to a mosque, all to engage in prayer at
the same time.
festival engaged visitors in an authentic atmosphere as the smells of Middle
Eastern food lingered on the sunny Saturday afternoon and the traditional music
and dancing took place in the center of the square. Visitors also went inside
to tour the monastery's church and catacombs which hold many replicas of Holy
is a celebration of culture," Father Gardiner said. "Religion and faith are the
basis of culture, and what better place to have this festival than at the