During his trip to the Middle East, Pope Benedict will journey, to the eastern bank of the River Jordan. Many Christians consider the waters holy and make pilgrimages to the river. It flows from north to south along the border between Jordan and Israel and the occupied territories. The Pope will visit from the Jordanian side. But while the waters might be considered holy, environmentalists say pollutants, massive irrigation withdrawals and an ongoing drought are destroying it.
For these Christian pilgrims, it's a spiritual moment. Dipping into the Jordan River, where they believe Jesus was baptized.
Elena Sopova is from Macedonia. She says she has been saving up for two years to do this. "It is special. You can only feel it, you can't say how it is. I can't find the words to explain that (it)," she said.
Though the river seems healthy and inviting here, environmentalists say the Jordan is severely polluted.
Nader Khateb is with the Friends of the Earth Middle East. He says the river is being desecrated. "The Jordan river has lost all sources of fresh water. What is currently flowing there is mainly sewage," Khateb explains. "Untreated sewage from communities on both sides of the river."
The river originates in the mountains of eastern Lebanon and passes through Syria as well. It flows south into Israel's Sea of Galilee and into the Jordan valley, forming the border between Jordan and Israel, including part of the Palestinian territories.
Ninety percent of the fresh water that used to fill the Jordan River has been diverted for irrigation, according to Friends of the Earth. A five-year drought has aggravated the situation.
Environmental experts say, as a result, the river's waters have been depleted. The River Jordan could dry up, they say, if the trend continues.
Father Angelo is a Catholic monk in Jerusalem. He is concerned. "It's sad to say that it looks very polluted, something has to be done to make it more clean," he asserts.
Khateb says he wants the world to get involved in saving the river. "The pilgrim people are coming from outside, they are not really aware of what is there. They want to jump in and be baptized but that is not safe enough," Khateb said. "It has a potiential health risk and that is why we are calling on the whole world to rehabilitate the Jordan River."
But Sopova says she isn't worried about pollution. "I believe this is holy water. I don't believe anything that can happen bad," she said.
For pilgrims, the river's holiness may be a matter of faith. But environmentalists say it's just a matter of time before it becomes too late to save the River Jordan.