Jerusalem, Undefined | AFP | Thousands of Christians from around the world marked Good Friday in Jerusalem’s Old City, retracing the steps Jesus Christ is believed to have taken carrying his cross to his crucifixion. It was also marked in various cities across the world.
Through the Old City’s narrow alleyways, pilgrims and Palestinian Christians carried wooden crosses, icons and flags of their respective countries in a procession under heavy surveillance from Israeli police.
Like every year in the runup to Easter, they retraced the 14 Stations of the Cross and walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus Christ is believed to be buried.
Inside the church, Egyptian Coptic Christian pilgrim Sameera Haleem, 52, prayed for protection for her family after deadly church bombings in her country on Palm Sunday.
“Parting with loved ones is very hard but they are martyrs,” she said of the 45 people who died in the bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria that were claimed by the Islamic State group.
“Copts being targeted and killed only serves to strengthen our belief,” she said, as she stood by the shrine surrounding what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus, clutching a piece of paper with the names of relatives she wanted to protect.
“This sacred place is blessed beyond all sacred places,” she said, tears glistening in her eyes as she tried to keep her place next to the shrine as pilgrims poured into the church.
Outside, a group of Russian nuns had stopped, carrying a portrait of Jesus surrounded by flowers.
A group of Catholic pilgrims from India wore red hoods.
Lara, an Australian Christian pilgrim, described the procession as “an amazing experience”.
“We can’t be any happier, it’s like a dream,” she said.
The “Via Dolorosa” — or “Way of Suffering” — includes points where Jesus is said to have met his mother, fallen several times, been helped in carrying the cross, and met the lamenting women of Jerusalem.
The route is situated in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
Christians made up more than 18 percent of the population of the holy land in 1948, before Israel was created, but now they number less than two percent.
They are mostly Orthodox Christians.
Police were on high alert as Christian commemorations were under way for Good Friday and as Jews marked the week-long Passover holiday.
On Friday, a 23-year-old British tourist was stabbed to death on a tram close to the Old City, and her Palestinian attacker arrested, police said.
Egyptian family to carry cross in Easter pope ritual
An Egyptian family will carry the cross at an Easter procession attended by Pope Francis Friday, with tens of thousands of faithful expected to hold candles aloft in prayer at Rome’s Colosseum.
The holy week commemorating the last days of Jesus’s life had a bloody beginning last Sunday with attacks claimed by the Islamic State group on two Coptic churches in Egypt that left 45 people dead.
Good Friday is the second of four important days in the Christian calendar beginning with Maundy Thursday and culminating in Easter Sunday, which commemorates Christ’s resurrection.
On Saturday, the pontiff will take part in an evening Easter vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, before celebrating Easter mass on Sunday and pronouncing the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing to Rome and the world.
Security was tight at the former gladiators’ battle ground Friday, where a small group of believers were to carry a cross between 14 “stations” evoking the hours in the run-up to Jesus’s crucifixion during the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession.
Three thousand officers have been deployed to protect the Colosseum, with road blocks and metal detectors in place and police helicopters with infrared systems surveying the area.
The pope is set to visit Egypt at the end of the month despite the church attacks.
The cross will also be carried for parts of the journey by believers from two other countries he will travel to this year: Portugal, which he will visit in May, and Colombia, where he heads in September.
Francis, 80, will sit under a canopy next to a large cross as he listens to a meditation written for the first time by a secular woman, French professor Anne-Marie Pelletier.