Pilgrims stay away from Jerusalem on tense Good Friday

Published March 30, 2024
JERUSALEM: Palestinian scouts carry a statue of Jesus Christ during the Good Friday procession in the Old City. The procession that winds along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering), starts at the spot where Christians believe Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death.—AFP
JERUSALEM: Palestinian scouts carry a statue of Jesus Christ during the Good Friday procession in the Old City. The procession that winds along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering), starts at the spot where Christians believe Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death.—AFP

JERUSALEM: The Gaza crisis hung heavy over Good Friday in Jerusalem with fewer Christian pilgrims walking the path through the walled Old City that they believe Christ took to his crucifixion.

Security was heavy in the narrow alleyways where thousands of Palestinians flocked to Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque compound.

“It is deeply touching to be here on Good Friday. There is a deep sadness you can feel in the air, which is probably heightened by what is happening (in Gaza),” said Australian John Timmons, who noted he had thought twice about coming.

The solemn procession that winds along the Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Suffering”, started at the spot where Christians believe Pontius Pilate convicted Jesus, and where his agonies began.

Less than 200 metres away at Al Aqsa mosque, the faithful were also called on to ponder suffering, this time of those under bombardment in Gaza.

“God be with our people in Gaza,” the imam said as an Islamic prayer for the dead was recited.

As the preacher’s words echoed through the narrow streets on a loudspeaker, Italian Catholic Mario Tioti, 64, said Jerusalem’s holiness cut through all the tensions and politics.

“It is a very special place. You can feel God and Christ here. He walked here.”

Roman Catholics and Protestants marked holy week this week. For the Orthodox churches, Good Friday does not come until May 3.

Treading barefoot over the ancient paving stones dressed in robes, American James Joseph, a long-time Jerusalem resident known as the “Jesus Guy”, compared the Gaza crisis to the biblical story of the “slaughter of the innocents”, when King Herod in his fury had thousands of infants killed.

“The suffering that those innocent people are going through (in Gaza) is tragic, but not for nothing,” he said at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Palestinian Via Dolorosa

Joseph said the Good Friday message is “God transforming suffering into resurrection. It is mysterious... but he died to save us”. For some Palestinians headed to Al Aqsa mosque, getting there had been its own Via Dolorosa.

Linda Al Khatib said heavy Israeli security had turned what is normally a five-minute journey from her village just outside Jerusalem into a 45-minute ordeal of checks and barriers.

“I came to pray because it is a very special day, especially in Ramazan.

“But I am very sad, there are not many visitors and there are no people. All the way on the road I was afraid,” she said.

An Indian-born nun living in Bethlehem for the last 13 years said it had never been so “tense” or difficult to enter east Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank at Easter.

But for some, the crisis keeping tourists away was a gift from on high.

“The last time I came there was crowds and crowds trying to get into Jerusalem. It was like Disneyland,” said Timothy Curtiss from Texas.

“This year you walk straight in.”

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2024

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