Christians in the Holy Land celebrate Good Friday this year amid signs that the coronavirus crisis is waning, with religious sites open to a limited number of worshipers, but none of the massive pilgrimages typically seen in the previous Holy Week. to Easter.
The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshipers are celebrating a second annual Holy Week under various movement restrictions amid outbreaks fueled by more contagious strains.
Last year, Jerusalem was under strict blockade, with sacred rites observed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors. It was a radical departure from years past, when tens of thousands of pilgrims descended on the city’s holy sites.
This year, brown-robed Franciscan friars led hundreds of faithful down the Via Dolorosa, revisiting what tradition holds were the final steps of Jesus, as they recited prayers over loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross. Another group carried a wooden cross along the route through the Old City, singing hymns and pausing to offer prayers.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, is open to visitors wearing masks and social distancing.
“Things are open, but cautiously and gradually,” said Wadie Abunassar, advisor to church leaders in the Holy Land. “In normal years, we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay home … This year we are somewhat silent.”
Israel has launched one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world, allowing it to reopen restaurants, hotels and religious sites. But air travel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping out the foreign pilgrims who often crowd Jerusalem during Holy Week.
The main holy sites are in the Old City in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and considers the entire city its unified capital, while the Palestinians want both territories for its future state.
Israel included Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in its vaccination campaign, but has only provided a small number of vaccines to the inhabitants of the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has imported tens of thousands of doses for a population of more than 2, 5 million.
Israeli authorities said that up to 5,000 Palestinian Christians from the West Bank would be allowed in for the Easter celebrations. Abunassar said he was unaware that any large groups of tourists from the West Bank planned to enter, as in years past, likely reflecting concerns about the virus.
Pope Francis kicked off Good Friday with a visit to the Vatican’s COVID-19 vaccination center, where volunteers spent the past week administering some 1,200 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to poor and disadvantaged people in Rome.
The Vatican City State bought its own doses to vaccinate Holy See employees and their families, and has been giving away surplus supplies to the homeless. A masked Francis posed for photos with some of the volunteers and recipients in the Vatican courtroom.
Later on Friday, Francis would preside over the Stations of the Cross procession in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Square, in place of the popular torchlight ritual that he usually performs at the Colosseum.
In France, a 7 p.m. curfew across the country is forcing parishes to advance Good Friday ceremonies during the day, as traditional Catholic evening processions are drastically reduced or canceled. Nineteen departments in France have localized locks, where parishioners can attend daytime mass by signing the government’s “travel certificate.”
Although a third lockdown “light” will be imposed on Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron has waived the travel ban over Easter weekend, allowing the French to drive between regions to reunite with family on Friday.
Notre Dame, devastated by fire, will not celebrate Mass on Good Friday this year, but the cathedral’s “Crown of Thorns” will be venerated by the cathedral’s clergy at its new temporary liturgical center in the nearby Saint-Germain church. l’Auxerrois.
In Spain, there will be no traditional processions for the second consecutive year, and the churches will limit the number of worshipers. Many parishes go online with Mass and prayers through video streaming services.
In the Philippines, the streets were eerily quiet and religious gatherings were prohibited in the capital, Manila, and in four outlying provinces. The government put the bustling region of more than 25 million people under lockdown again this week as it scrambled to contain an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.
The Philippines had started to reopen in hopes of stemming a serious economic crisis, but infections spiked last month, apparently due to more contagious strains, increased public mobility and complacency.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism