Christians mark Good Friday in Jerusalem inching towards normalcy

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Christians walk along Via Dolorosa on quiet Good Friday due to the restrictions on public gatherings amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) in Jerusalem on April 10, 2020.
Christians walk along Via Dolorosa on quiet Good Friday due to the restrictions on public gatherings amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) in Jerusalem on April 10, 2020.
Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Huddled in a corner of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Angele Percenita struggled to contain her tears, overwhelmed to be marking Good Friday in Jerusalem's Old City after last year's lockdown.

Percenita, a Filipina caregiver in Israel who said she has been fully inoculated against coronavirus, was one of hundreds of faithful who visited Christianity's holiest site on the day.

"It's so, so much better than last year," she told AFP.

Usually thousands mark Good Friday with a procession tracing the 14 Stations of the Cross, the route Christians believe Jesus walked while carrying his cross before being crucified.

Last year, as the pandemic was intensifying and with Jerusalem in its first of three coronavirus lockdowns, only four faithful retraced Christ's footsteps along the Old City's narrow cobbled streets.

Last year was also the first time the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the site of Christ's crucifixion and burial, according to tradition - had been closed for Easter in at least a century.

Israel - which annexed east Jerusalem including the Old City in 1967 - has vaccinated more than half of its 9.3 million residents, allowing the reopening of most major sites.

Lina Sleibi, a Palestinian Christian, recalled watching Easter mass online in 2020.

"Last year it was very hard. We felt like the city was dead," said the 28-year-old who sings at church services in the West Bank holy city of Bethlehem nearby.

Now, "you feel alive again," she said.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the final stop on the Stations of the Cross.

Hundreds of faithful, led by religious leaders bearing a cross, wound towards the church along the Via Dolorosa (Path of Sorrow) that snakes through the Old City.

While the modest crowd marked a step towards normalcy, the turnout was still minimal compared to the thousands that typically flock to Jerusalem during Easter.

Small crowds

In 2019, 25,000 people gathered in the city for Palm Sunday, according to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Angleena Keizer, a minister with the Church of Scotland, told AFP it felt "special" to be marking one of Christianity's most important days at its holiest site without crowds of tourists.

"It's nice to walk down the street when it's not packed with tourists.

"But, on the other hand, we would prefer for them to be here because of the economy and for people to be able to experience Easter on the Holy Land from around the world."

Despite Israel's reopening, tourists are still broadly barred from entering the country.

Bader Rabadi, a Palestinian tour guide, said it was "painful (and) frustrating" to watch mass online last year, in contrast to this year's feeling of "celebration".

But something is still missing, he said, voicing hope that next year Christians from around the world will again be able to mark Easter in the Holy City.

"Jerusalem is not ours. It's for everyone," he said.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Voting Booth
Who do you think should lead the Democratic Alliance after the party’s upcoming national congress in April?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
John Steenhuisen for sure, he’s got the experience
63% - 1453 votes
Mpho Phalatse, the DA needs a fresh outlook
37% - 847 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.