Jordan River 298 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hundreds of white-robed Christian pilgrims from Brazil entered the gently flowing waters of the Jordan River on Monday, some so overcome with emotion that they sobbed and collapsed on the shoulders of friends even before it was their turn to be immersed.
The Brazilians, more than 700 in all, culminated a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a mass baptism at Yardenit, the site where the Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee, and where many Christians believe that John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
After two hours of sermons, prayers and hymn singing, the pilgrims were submerged into the water, 10 or 12 at a time.
"I felt like a new life was born again inside me," said Fostenes Sousa, 46, of Salvador, Brazil. It was rewarding, he said, "to do the same thing that Jesus has done."
Others, overcome by the experience, were reluctant to leave the muddy waters.
The Yardenit baptismal site is one of the few places where the much-depleted Jordan River is deep enough for people to immerse themselves.
The site hosts thousands of visitors annually.
Pastor Milton Ebenezer, who baptized many of the Brazilian pilgrims, says the river holds miraculous powers.
"This is like rebirth," he said. "Every year we see people who come here to be baptized. They are sick, and when they go back home they get a medical checkup and they are well again."
The pilgrims, from cities and towns across Brazil, are affiliated with different evangelical churches. Most had been Catholic before being baptized, people at the baptismal site said.
The pilgrims were among thousands of Christians from over 90 nations who arrived in the Holy Land this week to take part in the 28th annual Christian celebration of the weeklong holiday of Succot.
According to the Old Testament's Book of Zechariah, all nations will make pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the messianic era to celebrate Succot. Christians have interpreted this to mean that Succot is a holiday where Jews welcome non-Jews to join them in celebration in the Holy Land.
Many of the pilgrims expressed strong and unequivocal support for Israel.
"We love (the land) of Israel, the people of Israel and the God of Israel," Sousa said. "We want to live the Bible that Israel gave to the world."