Prayers in Arabic and Latin echoed in the rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Sunday as Christians around the world were able to attend Palm Sunday Mass once again after two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
About 500 worshipers passed through the huge wooden doors of the church, which is the center of the most important festival in the Christian calendar, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and resurrected.
“After two years of covid, after the restrictions of closed churches, today we are in a normal environment. We have a lot of pilgrims, a lot of local Christians. We are very happy. For us, it is a kind of revival ” Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, told Reuters.
Worshipers shatter palm leaves, a traditional gesture to remember the branches laid by the crowd to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem as recorded by the Gospel. This day marks the beginning of Holy Week for Roman Catholics.
Joseph Obiazulu, 26, said, “There is no better place to celebrate Holy Week, noting that this is where all the events originally took place, and also noting that the COVID-19 The pandemic is mostly resolving, so it’s safe enough to come this year.” , from New York City.
Israel recently began allowing foreign tourists to re-enter the country.
Holy Week is usually the high season for Christian pilgrims, but on Sundays, there were only 20% of the number of worshipers who usually filled the church, said Athanasius Macora, a Franciscan monk, in his 23rd year as secretary of the commission. as said. Disputes between churches with claims to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
“Normally, where I am, we would have had seven to 10 groups a day, and now we’re on average two,” he said.
‘full of emotion’
About 400,000 visitors entered Israel in 2021, a sharp drop from the record high 4.55 million visitors in 2019, who contributed $7.2 billion to Israel’s economy.
“It’s very exciting and full of emotion,” said 20-year-old Patricia Mercader from Spain. “There are no words to explain where he stood and felt what he felt.”
Worshipers lit candles and knelt on the marble stone of the consecration, where it is believed that Jesus’ body was prepared for burial.
“I never thought I would visit the Holy Land,” said Francesca Teresinha de Jesus, Fernandes Farias, 85, from Brazil.
The Holy Sepulcher is located in the center of the Christian Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and later occupied in the 1967 war. The Armenian, Catholic and Greek churches are in custody, and the Coptic and Syrian churches have rights.
Foreign tourists have not yet returned in sufficient numbers to resume business in the quarter.
“About 20 years ago, we couldn’t even sleep during this month,” said Modar Natsche, a shop owner in the Old City.
“We’ll earn in this one month as much as the rest of the year. Now, nothing. We’ve forgotten the holidays are how bad it is.”
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