The Holy Sepulchre Is ‘Resurrected’ For Palm Sunday Mass As Pilgrims Return To Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — On Sunday, April 10, prayers in Arabic and Latin resonated in the rotunda of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as Christians from around the world were permitted to attend Palm Sunday mass following two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Around 500 worshippers walked through the massive wooden doors of the church, which is the focal point of the Christian calendar’s most important event as the spot where Jesus is thought to have been crucified and raised.

 

“After two years of COVID, of restrictions, of closed churches, today we are in a normal atmosphere. We have a lot of pilgrims and a lot of local Christians. We are very happy. For us, it’s a kind of resurrection,” Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, told Reuters.

 

Palm fronds were rattled by worshippers, a traditional gesture to commemorate the branches laid down by the masses welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem, as recorded in the gospels. For Roman Catholics, this day marks the beginning of Holy Week.

 

“There’s no better place to celebrate Holy Week than it is here,” Joseph Obiajulu, 26, of New York City, said.

 

“Seeing as here is where all the events initially took place and also seeing as the COVID-19 pandemic is mostly resolving, it’s safe enough to come this year,” he said.

 

Israel recently began allowing international tourists back into the country.

 

According to Athanasius Macora, a Franciscan monk in his 23rd year as secretary of the commission that negotiates disputes among the churches with claims to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Holy Week is usually the busiest time for Christian pilgrims, but on Sunday the church was only about 20% full.

 

“Normally, where I am, we would have had seven to 10 groups a day, and now we’re averaging two,” he said.

 

‘Full of Emotions’

 

In 2021, about 400,000 visitors visited Israel, down from a record high of 4.55 million visitors in 2019, who contributed $7.2 billion to the Israeli economy.

 

Patricia Mercader, 20, from Spain, said, “It’s very exciting and full of emotions.” “There are no words to describe how he felt standing where he was and feeling what he felt.”

 

Worshippers knelt at the marble Stone of the Anointing, believed to be where Jesus’ body was readied for burial.

 

Francisca Teresinha de Jesus Fernandes Farias, 85, from Brazil, stated, “I never imagined I would see the holy place.”

 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built in East Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter, which Israel took in a 1967 war and later annexed. The Coptic and Syrian churches have rights, while the Armenian, Catholic, and Greek churches share custody.

 

The return of overseas tourists has not yet been sufficient to restore the quarter’s business.

 

“We couldn’t even get any sleep during this month about 20 years ago,” said Modar Natshe, a shop owner in the Old City.

 

“We would earn almost as much as the rest of the year in this one month. Now, nothing. We have forgotten that there are holidays, that’s how bad it is.”

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