Drive-by at the Jordan River

What Jordan calls the "Baptism Site" at the Jordan River

What Jordan calls the "Baptism Site" at the Jordan River

AMMAN, Jordan — It sounded like a photographer’s dream: Pope Benedict was to pay a personal visit to the presumed site of Christ’s baptism at the Jordan River, standing above stone-rimmed pools uncovered by recent archeological excavations.

The place had to be especially significant to the pope, who set the first chapter of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” at this precise spot. The visit was considered one of the highlights of his biblical pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The photo and print journalists were in place hours before the pope arrived. He rode at the head of a convoy of electric vehicles that resembled oversized golf carts.

The setting was indeed perfect, and so was the late afternoon lighting as the pontiff listened to an expert describe the site. But the pope didn’t follow the script — he never got out of his cart, never approached the water, and in the end the photographers down by the river were practically shut out.

Photographers await the pope at the Jordan River

Photographers await the pope at the Jordan River

“Never file a picture in your mind before you’ve taken it,” remarked Greg Tarczynski, a well-known photographer for Catholic and other media outlets, who was in Jordan for the papal visit.

Tarczynski, his shoes muddy from standing on the banks of the river, thought he was in position for the perfect shot. Instead, like the others, he quickly gathered his equipment and hustled after the pope to a dusty plain a half-mile away.

There, about 800 people were waiting in the sun in front of a makeshift pavilion next to the site of a new Catholic Church. Their songs and applause echoed off the sides of a barren hill. Atop the hill stood a huge cross. Two flags, Vatican and Jordanian, fluttered in the stiff breeze.

A hole in the ground held the poured concrete foundations of the Latin-rite church, and a sign indicated where a second church, this one of the Melkite rite, would soon be built.

It was a place out in the middle of nowhere, but these people were eager to put it on the map. Sitting in the late afternoon sun, the pope was happy to oblige, delivering a speech and staying for more than an hour. On this day, he seemed even more interested in the church’s future than its past.

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