Christians mark Good Friday amid lingering virus woes

Friday, April 2, 2021

JERUSALEM (AP) — Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down, with religious sites open to limited numbers of faithful but none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter.

The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshippers are marking a second annual Holy Week under various movement restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains.

Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown, with sacred rites observed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors. It was a stark departure from past years, when tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city’s holy sites.

This year, Franciscan friars in brown robes led hundreds of worshippers down the Via Dolorosa, retracing what tradition holds were Jesus’ final steps, while reciting prayers through loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross. Another group carried a large wooden cross along the route through the Old City, singing hymns and pausing to offer prayers.

“We have to pray for those who can’t be here,” said Alejandro Gonzalez, a Mexican living in Israel. “Those of us who can be here have a responsibility to keep them in mind and to go in this Way of the Cross that they are going through as well.”

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, is open to visitors with masks and social distancing.

“Things are open, but cautiously and gradually,” said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land. “In regular years we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay at home... This year we are somehow silent.”

Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, allowing it to reopen restaurants, hotels and religious sites. But air travel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping away the foreign pilgrims who usually throng Jerusalem during Holy Week.

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